At 4 p.m. last Thursday, the parents of six teenage girls convened in the bar of the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas, to discuss their daughters, a crop of phenoms that U.S. Swimming has already billed as the New Kids on the Block. "It was our first meeting," said the organizer of the confab, Bob Sanders, a dentist from Roseville, Calif. "We're going to call ourselves the Old Farts Around the Corner."
For six days at the U.S. Swimming Long Course Nationals in Austin last week, their progeny showed what wonders may lie around the corner for women's swimming in the U.S. Despite having tapered their training to peak at the Goodwill Games in Seattle the previous week, the New Kids were omnipresent on the blocks and at the finish, winning four races and garnering a total of 13 medals. Five of the six qualified for the world championships in Perth, Australia, this January, the lone exception being 17-year-old free-styler Jane Skillman. The New Kids showed a sophisticated taste in music, too: Only one admits to liking the bubble-gum rock group they were named for, and she demands anonymity.
U.S. women's coach Richard Quick likens the New Kids to the class of American female swimmers, led by Tracy Caulkins, that emerged triumphantly at the 1978 world championships in West Berlin. "They're young, goal-oriented and very aggressive," says Quick. "And they all see an opportunity for international success."
They still have a way to go, of course. The dominant woman in Austin was Janet Evans—now practically a grande dame at age 18-who won the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles. But three of the New Kids each earned a first, a second and a third. Here they are, for future reference:
August 12, 1990
•Summer Sanders, 17, the dentist's daughter. Sanders grabbed three golds at the Goodwill Games and won the 200 IM at Austin in 2:14.36. After winning the 400 IM in Seattle to hand Evans her first defeat in four years in that event, Sanders passed up a rematch. "I don't like the event at all," she said. "Actually I hate it."
"Summer's got talent, she's incredibly smooth and she has a great attitude," says Mike Barrowman, the world-record holder in the 200-meter breaststroke. "She's happy about everything. It's like, 'Oh, the 200 fly. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum.' And then—boom!—she's gone."
Sanders's parents were about to have their first child on the first day of summer in 1970, and they liked the seasonal name. Alas, the baby turned out to be a boy. So Bob and Barbara Sanders named him Trevor and saved the name until Summer came along two years later—in October. Summer's deepest passion is not swimming but Michael Jordan. She has been known to take posters of the Chicago Bulls star with her to meets and stick them to the walls of her hotel room with toothpaste. At a recent celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, she followed him around for 18 holes but wouldn't bother him for an autograph. "I don't know," she says. "I just like all the things he can do."
•Nicole Haislett, 17, of St. Petersburg, Fla. Haislett's freestyle stroke was recently graded at an extraordinary 99.44% by a piece of equipment that measures stroke efficiency. Already the best freestyle sprinter in the U.S., she won the 100 (55.84), finished third to fellow New Kid Jenny Thompson, 17, in the 50 and may find her truest niche in the 200. "She's got a killer instinct," says her coach, Fred Lewis. "She works as hard or harder in the weight room as she does in the pool."
Haislett can bench-press more than 200 pounds. What Air Jordan is to Sanders, the Terminator is to Haislett. "Arnold Schwarzenegger," she says. "He is god!"
•Mary Ellen Blanchard, 17, of Nor-cross, Ga. The granddaughter of football legend Doc Blanchard, whom she refers to as "the Heisman Trophy guy," Mary Ellen won the 200 breast in 2:32.18. She rooms with backstroker Janie Wagstaff, 16, the sixth member of the group. "We've all become such good friends so quickly, and not just because we're the same age," Blanchard says. "We act alike, too. It's so weird. We're obnoxious sometimes, but what can you expect?"
After last week, only great things this January in Perth.