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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

He Doesn't Waffle in the Water

Swimming: Belgian Deburghgraeve sets world record, then gets gold in 100 breaststroke.

July 21, 1996|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — For Fred Deburghgraeve, the swimmer with the long and winding name, the road from Roeselare, Belgium, to a world record and then a gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympics is one of charming simplicity.

The former factory worker doesn't train in some high-tech performance lab but in an undistinguished local pool at home under the direction of his father.

"He started coaching when I started swimming," Fred said.

His real coach lives about 80 miles away, in Antwerp, watches him swim once a week, then delivers the rest of his teaching via nightly telephone calls.

Telephonic coaching helped take out a world record that was nearly three years old Saturday. Deburghgraeve went 1 minute 00.60 seconds in a preliminary heat at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, easily beating the previous mark of 1:00.95 set by Hungary's Karoly Guttler on Aug. 3, 1993. Deburghgraeve then won the gold medal Saturday night in 1:00.65.

"After 75 meters, I saw I had an advantage and wanted to keep my stroke at the same level," he said of the record swim. "I was surprised [at the record]. I knew I was able to do it, and I'm just glad I did it."

D

The outcome was a stark reversal of Deburghgraeve's last Olympic experience, in which he slipped on the starting block and finished 34th in the 100 breaststroke at Barcelona in 1:05.10, admitting he had given up after 75 meters.

Humbled and humiliated, Deburghgraeve quit competitive swimming and, "stayed off the blocks for a year." He resumed his schooling and dabbled in water polo. But slow times by one of his competitors, Nick Gillingham of Great Britain, piqued his curiosity and soon he was swimming again. Gradually, his times dropped, from 1:02.54 in 1993 to 1:01.10 at the 1995 European Championships.

After making swimming history in the morning, the 23-year-old did something else special for his country when he won the gold. It was the first swimming gold medal for Belgium.

Said Deburghgraeve's coach Ronald Gaastra: "He trains like an animal. He follows his instincts. If he feels very tired, he swims slow."

Actually Gaastra's first impression of his pupil was not positive at an early training camp.

"I said, 'What is that guy doing here?' " Gaastra said. " 'It must be one of the public swimming in my lanes.' "

And now, years later, Deburghgraeve was the fastest man in the world in the 100 breaststroke at the biggest public meet in the world.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Medalists / SWIMMING

* Men's 100 Breaststroke

Gold: Fred Deburghgraeve, Belgium

Silver: Jeremy Linn, United States

Bronze: Mark Warnecke, Germany

* Men's 200 Freestyle

Gold: Danyon Loader, New Zealand

Silver: Gustavo Borges, Brazil

Bronze: Daniel Kowalski, Australia

* Women's 100 Freestyle

Gold: Le Jingyi, China

Silver: Sandra Vokler, Germany

Bronze: Angel Martino, United States

* Women's 400 Individual Relay

Gold: Michelle Smith, Ireland

Silver: Allison Wagner, United States

Bronze: Krisztina Egerszegi, Hungary

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