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Ex-Tornado overcomes illness to face world

Robert Margalis swims with a viral infection but does not qualify for any finals.

By JOHN SCHWARB

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 11, 2001


As far as summer vacations go, Robert Margalis' trip to Japan was filled with plenty of forgettable moments.

But for a first-ever trip to the World Swimming Championships, the 19-year-old had little to hang his head over.

Despite delays in getting from Tampa to Los Angeles to Japan and a viral infection contracted along the way, a less-than-healthy Margalis swam respectably during the July 22-29 meet.

The former Clearwater High and St. Petersburg Aquatics star failed to reach the final in any of his four events, but places of 10th (in the 200-meter individual medley), 15th (800 free), 16th (400 free) and 18th (1,500 free) were promising considering Margalis had never faced the world's best.

"I wasn't really happy with my swims, but it was fun," Margalis said. "It was definitely a good experience."

Going into the meet, Margalis said he did not feel as strong physically as he had in the past before major events. On top of that, illness did not help.

Still, Margalis downplayed the virus as the dominant factor in his performance. Fred Lewis, his longtime coach at SPA, said he believes otherwise.

"He lost 8-10 pounds, was running a fever and had chills before swims," Lewis said. "Going into the meet, his times would have put him in the finals. He just got sick, and it didn't happen."

The 200 IM was Margalis' best event. His time of 2 minutes, 2.81 seconds was one second off of his personal best. He missed qualifying for the final by 26 hundredths of a second.

Margalis already has proved himself as one of the nation's elite, finishing third in two events at last summer's Olympic trials and currently owning the fastest time by an American in the 400 free this year.

Competing on the world stage, however, was an eye-opener.

"I'm usually pretty good about knowing the competition because I check up on the Internet and look at results from meets," Margalis said. "The depth of the meet was a little bit of a surprise; how many fast swimmers there were."

Margalis made mental notes of everything and soaked up tips from his roommate on the trip, 2000 Olympic 200 IM bronze medalist Tom Wilkens. The veteran gave pointers on training and resting for big meets that Margalis said he'll use in the future.

As for the immediate future, Margalis will rest for most of this month under doctor's orders. Three years ago, he battled chronic fatigue, and the viral infection also could linger without complete rest.

While resting, Margalis will miss the Senior National championships next week in California, but he'll have other big events to look forward to early next year while attending the University of Georgia.

Most of the team's big dual meets are in January and February, and the NCAA championships are in March.

"It'll be different, but I hear that it's fun," said Margalis of college swimming.

"And I'll be right back into working hard."

And he won't have to worry about overseas travel.

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