Elizabeth Pelton has disappointing third-place finish in 200M backstroke

Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Beisel were the top two finishers in the 200-meter backstroke Sunday, earning spots on the Olympic team. Former North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmer Elizabeth Pelton came in third.

"You don't really swim to get to third," a dejected Pelton said. Her family, who moved from Connecticut to the Baltimore area for her to swim at NBAC, were in the stands. She has been training in Naples with her former NBAC coach, Paul Yetter, and is headed to Cal-Berkeley in the fall. "I definitely had a chance to make it."

Kathleen Ledecky and Kate Ziegler came in first and second, respectively, in the 800-meter freestyle, making the London-bound team. NBAC's Gillian Ryan came in seventh.

In something of a surprise, Cullen Jones and Anthony Ervin, the prodigal swimmer who walked away from competition after winning gold and silver in the 2000 Games, finished ahead of top sprinter Nathan Adrian to qualify in the 50-meter free.

Torres hoping for one more shot

Dara Torres has to hope that age and guile beat youth and innocence even in a swimming pool. At 45, the decorated Olympian is battling swimmers half her age or more, not to mention a gimpy knee and all the other cruelties of time, for an astonishing sixth trip to the Games.

She made it through the first hurdle, the preliminaries Sunday morning in the 50-meter freestyle, where her 25-second finish placed her fifth out of the 16 who swim in the evening semifinals. There, she improved her ranking, with a 24.80 finish that put her third after Jessical Hardy and Christine Magnusson.

Already tied for the most Olympic medals ever won by an American female swimmer with 12, Torres would have the chance to for surpass her co-record holder, Jenny Thompson. But that's not the prize she has her eye on.

"In '08, it was about winning medals. I felt like I was going to be there," she said of the Beijing Games, where she won three silvers, including one that would have been gold had she come in one-hundredth of a second faster. "This time around, it's about making the team."

Torres had reconstructive knee surgery in 2009, and while she recovered well, it continues to pose problems when she's racing.

"My problem is my underwater," Torres said. "It hurts my knee to do dolphin kicks. I have to do two quick kicks and get up as quick as I can."

Still, she said, the best pain reliever is competing.

"You don't feel it," she said. "There's so much adrenaline."

Neal relishing Olympic opportunity

Lia Neal stands out in a sport that is largely white, and often suburban.

Hailing from Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood, the 17-year-old Neal made the Olympic team Saturday night after coming in fourth in the 100-meter freestyle, winning a spot on the relay team that will compete in London.

Neal, whose father is African-American and mother is Chinese, has been mentored by the likes of Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt, who have traveled with rising young swimmers as they gain experience competing in Moscow, Berlin and Stockholm.

"I still get starstruck," she said of her now Olympic teammate Phelps. "He's really supportive. ... Every night he would give us a motivational speech."

She paid Schmitt, who's now her relay teammate, what might be the ultimate teenage compliment, calling her "chill."

With no swim teams in her neighborhood, she trains at Asphalt Green United Aquatics on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

She is the second African-American woman to make the U.S. Olympic swim team, after Maritza Correia, who won a silver in 2004 in the same event Neal has qualified for. Neal said she had friended Correia on Facebook before the older swimmer knew who she was, and was thrilled to receive "a really heartfelt email" congratulating her on making the team and telling her "to enjoy every moment of it."

Jones, the Charlotte-based African-American swimmer who made his second Olympic team this week, spoke with Neal before her 100-free race — all about the business at hand.

"He was basically giving me race strategy," she said. "Go out strong."

Maryland swimmers

NBAC's Mary Pelton, sister of Elizabeth, and Cierra Runge, and Maryland's Mega Lafferty and Ann Fittin swam in the 50-meter freestyle preliminaries but didn't advance, although Fittin's 17th-place standing made her the first alternate for the evening semifinals.

In the men's 1500-meter freestyle, Loyola University's Brennan Morris, Navy's Justin Yagts and Riley Mita and NBAC's Drew Cosgarea, a McDonogh graduate, swam the preliminaries but didn't advance to Monday night's final.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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