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Peirsol saving his best stuff for now?

August 14, 2010|By Steve Virgen, steve.virgen@latimes.com
(Kent Treptow / Daily…)

Last week I experienced a rather surreal moment while reporting at the USA Swimming National Championships.

I saw Aaron Peirsol for the first time since 2004, all grown up.

Yes it was bizarre that he ended the meet without a gold medal, but it was also a bit strange to see him again. He's now 27. I first met him when he was 17. I wouldn't say we have a friendship, but it is a friendly working relationship.

It was great to catch up with him. But this column isn't really about my encounter with Peirsol, who starred at Newport Harbor High. It's more about how he finished runner-up in the 100-meter backstroke and 200 back, this guy most people call, "the backstroke king."

And so I asked him, "When was the last time you ended a meet without a win?"

He looked me straight in the eye and replied, "It's not something I'm too personally hung up on considering what's coming up in two weeks. I was close in the 100. Overall it was a fun meet."

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And then it hit me. As competitive as Peirsol is, winning really wasn't the end-all last week at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center. He just wanted to qualify for the Pan Pacific Championships, the five-day meet that starts Wednesday back at Woollett.

A part of me believes he is saving his best stuff for this meet. How cool would it be to break his own world records in the 100 and 200 back in the pool where he trained as a kid? I believe that's what he's thinking. I believe we haven't seen Peirsol's best stuff just yet.

Or you can believe this is the end of a grand career for a hall-of-fame swimmer. He's 27, about the same age when Lenny Krayzelburg started to wind down and give way to Peirsol.

But then again, Peirsol is the same guy who brushed away Michael Phelps, letting him know the backstroke still belongs to him.

Now Ryan Lochte appears to be taking over.

But we'll see what takes place next week.

Phelps knows Peirsol can still bring it.

"Throughout the many years that I've known him, he's a competitor," Phelps said. "He's one of the best competitors at the end of a race that I've ever seen. When there's a finish or in the last 15 meters of a race he's there every time."

Don't doubt Peirsol. Just last year, he broke the world record in the 200 back, when he touched in 1 minute 51.92 seconds to win gold at the world championships.

I believe Peirsol will be ready next week. I wouldn't be surprised if he broke his own world records.

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