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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | SOUTHLAND FOCUS / A Look at
the day that was and at what lies ahead at the Summer
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Missing in Action : Disqualification Forced Quance to Watch the 400-Meter IM, but She Plans to Concentrate Efforts in Other Events

July 21, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — America's premier distance medley swimmer sat in the bleachers of the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center on Saturday night and watched the Olympic gold medal she so coveted be awarded to someone else.

A short time earlier, at the conclusion of Kristine Quance's best event, the 400-meter individual medley, she turned to her coach, Mark Schubert, and quietly asked, "Can I time trial that race after my last event?"

Other than the hands and embraces of those who surrounded her, what-might-have-beens were all Quance had to grasp.

Friends couldn't grant what she wanted most: the opportunity to race.

Quance, from Northridge, couldn't compete in her specialty event because she was disqualified on a technicality after dominating a heat race at the U.S. trials in March.

"It's strange," Quance said. "The 400 is the one race I always felt I had a good chance to win a gold medal."

Strange, indeed.

Michelle Smith of Ireland won the gold medal with a time seven-hundredths of a second faster than Quance's personal best of 4:39.25. Americans Allison Wagner and Whitney Metzler were second and eighth, respectively.

Schubert, who is convinced Quance is in shape to lower her previous best, said he was surprised the USC senior showed up to watch what for her was surely a painful spectacle.

"Her hardest day is over," he said. "I've been dreading this day for three months. I think anyone would have understood her skipping tonight, but she had to see it for herself."

Watching wasn't easy, but Quance required herself to. "It's not something I can ignore," she said.

During the evening's finals, Quance sat with teammate Jenny Thompson, who is among the nation's best sprinters. Thompson, the former world-record holder in the 100-meter freestyle and a double gold medalist at Barcelona in 1992, had a disappointing trials and qualified only for the U.S. relay teams.

"I thought maybe we could support each other a bit," Quance said. "I'm just glad this part is all over on the first day."

Now comes the easy part, swimming.

Quance, 21, will compete in the 100-meter breaststroke today and the 200-meter individual medley on Wednesday. She was second in the U.S. trials in both events.

Not her specialty, but chances to race just the same.

And maybe to surprise a few naysayers.

"She's been in none of the predictions," Schubert said, "but you can't count her out. Kristine has really raced great this summer, and I know she'll perform best when the spotlight is on."

This week will mark the first time Quance has faced international fields in either event.

"I'm confident in myself, but I feel like everyone is counting me out because these are my weaker events," Quance said. "[But] that's good. There's no pressure on me because there are no expectations."

Already Quance has raised some eyebrows. Last month she won the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM within an hour of each other at the Santa Clara International Invitational, a major pre-Olympic tuneup.

"This whole summer I've been worrying that I wasn't in shape because I wasn't doing the distance work I was used to for the 400," Quance said. "That meet gave me some confidence. . . .

"I've had to work really hard and not take anything for granted this summer. I knew I had to work hard because I had a lot of improving to do."

Training for her Olympic events has been her sole focus since May, when she decided against suing U.S. Swimming over her disqualification.

Family members and Quance's attorneys say they are confident she would have won a court battle, but Quance halted her appeal after being told that she could not be added to the field without Metzler being subtracted.

"I didn't want anyone to face what I'd had to face, to have something taken away," Quance said. "That wouldn't have been right. I know I couldn't have lived with myself."

At the trials, Quance was disqualified by a judge who ruled that she made an illegal turn between the backstroke and breaststroke. It was a minor infraction--her coach claimed it probably slowed her down--and a violation rarely called at the world-class level.

Quance won the heat race by almost five seconds.

Still, she said she does not regret her decision to avoid a court battle.

"We need to be united," she said of the U.S. team. "We need all the help we can get from each other because a lot of people don't expect us to do very well here."

Metzler kept up her end by shaving more than two seconds off her previous best in the preliminaries before fading later in the final.

"That made me feel better," Quance said. "I'm glad [Metzler and Wagner] were both in the final."

Quance's parents, David and Sandy, skipped the first day's races.

David Quance said that while he respected his daughter's decision to drop her appeal, he didn't agree with it.

"But I'm older and more callous," he said. "It would have haunted her for a long time."

Quance rebounded after the trials to earn the NCAA swimmer-of-the-year award by winning collegiate championships in the 100-yard breaststroke, 200-yard IM and 400-yard IM.

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