The Young And The Relentless Record-breaking 15-year-old Megan Quann has put older rivals in a pickle

December 13, 1999

Coaches and scribes were trying to flatter 15-year-old phenom
Megan Quann at the U.S. Open swim meet in San Antonio last
weekend, but the skeptical Quann wanted no part of it. Their
mistake, it seemed, was in the focus of their accolades: Megan
Quann.

What about Quann's resounding victory last Thursday night in the
100-meter breaststroke against South Africa's Penny Heyns, who
had shattered 11 world records over three distances this year?
Big wup. "She wasn't in my lane," Quann said. "Why should I
worry about her?" How about Quann's time of 1:07.94--the sixth
U.S. record of her career? Been there, done that. National
records are, like, so 20th-century. "I wanted the world record,"
said Quann, who still has 1.42 seconds to go to beat the mark
Heyns set in Sydney in August. "Maybe next year. I know I can
get it sooner or later."

Quann may not have been impressed, but Heyns sure was. "It's the
first time I've lost a race to someone 10 years younger," Heyns
said. "It's pretty scary." As Heyns was struggling with
Meganitis, Quann placed second in Saturday's 200 breaststroke to
former world-record holder Rebecca Brown of Australia but
reduced her PR to 2:32.36.

Quann gave little indication of her talents the day she joined
the Aquatic Club in Puyallup, Wash., as a nine-year-old. "I
stopped seven times in one lap of a 25-yard pool," she recalls.
"They put me with the five-year-olds, and I was soooo
embarrassed. I had to be with the older kids."

Rick Benner, the club's coach, charged a graduated monthly rate
based on which of eight skill levels a kid had reached. Erin and
Tom Quann couldn't understand why their fees climbed every
month. "Just how good is she getting?" Tom asked Benner at a
meet one day. "Watch this next race," Benner said. Megan, then
10, beat the field in the 200-yard breaststroke by a pool length.

Within two years Megan was nagging Benner for twice-daily
practice sessions. "It isn't something you do when you're 12,"
Benner told her. "O.K., then, when?" she asked. He worked her
into two-a-days over the next few months. When Benner tried to
send her home after she arrived at the pool pale and queasy one
day, Megan protested vehemently, then swam for an hour, fell
asleep at poolside and threw up in the car on the way home.

Tom learned not to try to temper his daughter's expectations.
Megan had never swum better than 1:13 for the 100-meter
breaststroke going into the 1998 spring nationals when Tom asked
her what her target time for the meet was. When she told him
1:09, he suggested that she "should try for something a little
more realistic." Megan, who was seeded 20th, won her first
national title, swimming the final in 1:09.42.

Now Quann's days include three training sessions, two of
swimming and one of weight training or kicking drills. She swims
100,000 yards a week and has a 3.95 average at Puyallup's Rogers
High, where her sophomore courses include college-level biology
and sign language. "Megan's headed for the pool at five in the
morning," says her father, "so there's no need for a curfew."

What's more, she has a mantra some parents might wish to bottle
for their teenage girls: "Boys are bad." This isn't parental
overprotection talking; Quann has a self-imposed moratorium on
dating until after the Sydney Olympics. That leaves her more
time for must-see TV: videotapes of her training sessions. While
classmates are watching reruns of Friends, she's taxing the
pause and rewind buttons on the VCR as she squints to find flaws
in her flip turns. Then she makes a list: good things on one
side, bad things on the other, and usually borrows space at the
bottom side of the GOOD column after the BAD column fills up
with "yucks" and "ughs." "Kick wider," she might write. "Lunge
forward, not up."

All this hasn't gotten her where she wants to be. In San
Antonio, where her 100 was voted the Open's top performance,
Quann was still fending off praise and eyeing future feats. "I
know the world record is within reach--soon," she said. But for
someone who shows little reverence for paying dues, Quann knew
she would have to put in time to reach one goal. Not long ago
she acquired an unseemly nickname, one that makes her eyes roll.
On friends' advice, she once soaked a new swimsuit in vinegar so
the colors wouldn't run. When she arrived at practice the next
day, the suit's stench preceded her and brought her a moniker
she may need years to shed. Quann will know she has arrived the
day people stop calling her Pickles. Then she'll be really
impressed.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

"I know that the world record is in reach--and soon," says Quann.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)