To Sanders, comeback is 'so cool' OLYMPICS


SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Summer Sanders' decision to quit swimming seemed sensible. She had been battling swimmer's hair all her life, she had starred on the varsity team of one of the best swimming colleges in the nation and she had achieved the ultimate goal -- an individual gold medal in the Olympics.

Even after all that, she agonized for a year before hanging up the goggles, throwing the Speedo in a gym bag and floating off into the sunset in December 1993.

But just as the winter turns to spring, swimming has had a Summer solstice. Sanders is back, aiming for a spot on the 1996 Olympic team. This weekend, Sanders, 22, has been participating in the Santa Clara International swim meet, which concludes today.

"I thought the decision to come back was so cool," said Sanders, who was recuperating from a 6,000-meter morning workout, followed by a weight session at the Santa Clara International Swim Center. "I felt it was so cool to challenge myself."

She retired because she didn't feel that challenge after winning four medals -- two gold, one silver and one bronze -- in the 1992 Barcelona Games. "It was a long, thought-out process. I thought about it for about a year. I didn't hate swimming, I just didn't love it anymore."

In contrast to her retirement debate, Sanders' decision to return was quick. The thought entered her mind one morning this past April, and the next day she packed up her kick board and pull buoy and was off to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train with the U.S. resident swim team.

The resident team is an elite group of the nation's most promising swimmers. The brainchild of Dennis Pursley, national team director for U.S. Swimming, the team provides U.S. athletes -- especially college graduates -- the resources to concentrate solely on training. Prospective members must apply and be selected to the team, which pays for housing, meals and training.

"There's never been a program like this," said former 100 freestyle record holder Jonty Skinner, who has coached three Olympic gold medalists, 10 U.S. national champions and now the resident team. Skinner said the team is ideal for swimmers to focus on their sport with no distractions. Sanders agreed.

"It's an awesome program . . . everyone is there for the same reason," Sanders said. "Swimming is all you do."

But before joining the resident team, swimming was just about the only thing Sanders didn't do. Although she stayed in shape, exercising on a stair machine or pounding the pavement in Brentwood with her boyfriend, former Stanford football and volleyball player Jim Klein, Sanders spent more time making television appearances on CBS and as co-host of MTV's "Sandblast."

"It was exciting to deal with a pressure situation outside of swimming," said Sanders, who found it so exciting that she auditioned for a position on the Olympic commentating team. Now, Sanders said, the team she wants to be on in '96 is the swim team.

"It wasn't so much that I didn't want to do commentating," she said. "I just wanted to swim again."

Sanders will concentrate on qualifying in the 200 butterfly, the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly, with the emphasis on the events in that order. She was testing the waters at the International, which Sanders and the rest of the resident team have entered.

"I'm really tired right now, and I'm really worn out," Sanders said after doing a little rehabilitation for a rotator-cuff injury that has bothered her left shoulder since her freshman year at Stanford. "But I have my good days and my bad days, and I'll continue having my good and bad days up until March next year."

Sanders won't know until next spring, at the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, if she'll be booking a plane ticket to Atlanta. But in the meantime, suffice it to say, Summer is here.

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