Soni beats Hardy in Olympic tune-up swim meet

Rebecca Soni beat Jessica Hardy to win the 100-meter breaststroke at the Speedo Grand Challenge, Hardy returned to win the 50 freestyle, and 40-year-old Janet Evans finished fourth in a consolation final of the 400 free on the meet's opening night Friday.

Soni and Hardy, who both train on the University of Southern California campus, dueled in a likely preview of next month's U.S. Olympic trials. Soni touched first in 1 minute, 6.57 seconds and Hardy settled for second at 1:06.81 after leading at the halfway point.

"We race all the time in practice, but it's good to come and race on the block with the crowd," Soni said after her lone event of the three-day meet. "It was a close race and I'm happy with it."

Hardy later won the 50 free in 25.11 seconds in one of the final tuneup meets before the U.S. swimming team is chosen at the trials in Omaha.

"I'm tired but I'm turning the corner now and I think recovering before trials," Hardy said. "I swam faster than I thought I would and that's exciting. It's definitely the most fun part of the whole quadrennial right now."

Evans was third most of the way in the 400 free 'A' consolation final before finishing fourth in 4:19.29, slower than her time in the morning preliminaries. She missed a spot in the four-woman final by 31-hundredths of a second after finishing fifth in prelims. Lynette Lim won the race in 4:17.22.

"It's weird how it's only for four. It would have nice to have been in there, but it was good," Evans said. "I'm tired and happy. I'm looking forward to my 800."

Evans believes the 800 represents her best chance to make a final at the trials. She was the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic titles in the longer event in 1988 and '92.

In the 400 free championship final, 2008 Olympian Kate Ziegler won in 4:10.36, while Evans' 18-year-old training partner, Megan Rankin, took second at 4:13.89.

In the men's 100 breaststroke, 2008 Olympian Eric Shanteau was first in 1:01.16. John Criste, who also trains at USC with Shanteau, was second at 1:01.66.

"One more time to race, that's all it really is," Shanteau said. "I'm already thinking about trials at this point."

Two-time Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima of Japan, was entered in the meet, but didn't swim and won't compete this weekend, according to Dave Salo, who coaches him at USC.

Ashley Delaney of Australia won the 200 free in 1:51.61, while 2008 Olympian Ricky Berens finished fourth in 1:55.69. Berens was more interested in posting a 100 split, so he took the race out quickly and finished the first half in 50.13 seconds before fading down the stretch.

"I'm still trying to race it right, but that was nowhere near what I wanted to do," Berens said about his split. "We've had a tough week of training, I'm pretty tired right now. This is my last meet until trials. The rest of the racing is all in practice now."

Only four swimmers make the finals at this meet as a way to get athletes to swim faster in the preliminaries. The swimmer with the fastest time going into the final spins a wheel to determine the prize money that goes to the winner.

Soni and Hardy each received $400 for their victories, while the other finals were worth $300 each to the winner. Second and third-place finishers receive nominal amounts.

"It's cool," Soni said. "I think all meets should have prize money.'