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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Keeping Up With Smith

Swimming: Beard gets first gold in 400 medley relay. Pankratov sets world record in 100 butterfly.

July 25, 1996|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Amanda Beard wasn't having any of this wait-four-years-and-win-a-gold-medal talk. How about waiting one day? After all, she was in the neighborhood.

Beard got together on Wednesday with some buddies--Beth Botsford, 15, and older friends Amy Van Dyken, 23, and Angel Martino, 29--and won her first gold medal at the Olympics, in the women's 400-meter medley relay in 4 minutes 2.88 seconds.

After winning two silver medals, Beard, who will turn 15 in October, is believed to be the youngest American swimmer to win a gold medal, according to U.S. Swimming. The youngest female swimmer to win a gold medal was Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi, who took the 200 backstroke in 1988 at 14 years one month.

"We'll take it--but if Beth and Amanda swim the splits they can swim, it would have been a world record," said Murray Stephens, who is Botsford's coach.

Beard doesn't know where to put the medals but does have some idea of what she will do when she returns home to Irvine.

"I was waiting for this and I think our relay team had a really good chance of winning," she said. "It was really good. When I get home--somebody gave me the idea--I'm getting a rabbit when I get home and I'm going to name him Silver. And I think I'm going to get another one and name him Gold."

While her wait for a gold medal was delightfully short, Denis Pankratov's journey took much longer, winding through a series of strange twists and turns. After bombing in Barcelona, the Russian butterfly specialist will leave Atlanta with two gold medals. In winning the second Wednesday, he broke his own world record in the 100 butterfly in 52.27. He set the previous one, 52.32, in Vienna in 1995.

It was the third world record set at the pool, as the United States came back to earth a bit after an inspiring day on Tuesday. Wednesday, the only medal for the Americans was the gold in the women's relay. It was the eighth gold medal for the United States after five days of competition. Disappointing to the U.S. team, USC's Kristine Quance failed to make the finals in the 200 individual medley.

Other winners were Hungarian Norbert Rozsa in the 200 breaststroke, at 2:12.57, and Ireland's Michelle Smith won her third consecutive gold medal, taking first in the 200 IM in 2:13.93.

For the 22-year-old Pankratov, it was his second gold medal in three days. He had won the 200 butterfly on Monday. He has been overshadowed by his more heralded teammate, Alexander Popov, but that's the way Pankratov prefers it.

"The biggest motivator was that I didn't do very well at the last Olympics; I was in sixth place," he said. "I did my best to prove to everybody that I am not meant to be in that place. And I guess I succeeded."

He has had other difficult moments. In February, his two world-record swims at the Paris World Cup were not recognized because he was not tested for performance-enhancing drugs after either race. An angry Pankratov and his coach demanded compensation from the French Swimming Assn. and the dispute remains alive.

"I don't think we are going to solve everything amicably," Pankratov said. "It's going to go to the courts."

For years, he has been ahead of the competition. Scott Miller of Australia posed a brief challenge when he set an Olympic record in the morning prelims but Pankratov was too much in the finals. Miller was second in 52.53 and Russia's Vladislav Kulikov took the bronze in 53.13.

For the Americans, the day was salvaged when Martino, who is from nearby Americus, Ga., went ahead on the third leg with the butterfly. Beard went 1:08.34 in her breaststroke leg. South Africa's Penny Heyns, who won two gold medals in her two duels against Beard, put her team in first place after two legs with a split of 1:07.41. But the Americans simply had too much strength from Martino and Van Dyken. And that was it.

Beard's work at the Olympics is done and now she can have some more fun at the Olympic Village, planning to go to a day spa with her teammates, play some laser tag and simply hang out.

"I can't believe it is over," she said. "It went really fast and I came out of it really well."

* LAST CALL: Janet Evans will have one final chance at a gold medal today in the 800 freestyle final. S11

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