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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | RANDY HARVEY

Clouds in the Chlorine and Dim View of Cheating

September 21, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

SYDNEY, Australia — The Netherlands' Inge De Bruijn broke her own world record Wednesday night in the 100-meter freestyle and then reached over for a hug from her rival in the next lane, the United States' Jenny Thompson. She obliged, but De Bruijn shouldn't expect flowers any time soon.

Thompson later shot her a glare so searing that, well, let's just say that she could have ignited the flame over the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony without a torch.

What was she saying with that look?

It couldn't have been that she was upset about finishing second--it was merely a semifinal heat--and it's not as if she has never lost before in the Olympics. Later Wednesday night, she would win her seventh gold medal over three Summer Games and all have come in relays. She has never won an individual gold.

Was she saying that she doesn't respect De Bruijn because the Dutch swimmer is using performance-enhancing drugs?

"You're reading too much into that," Thompson's coach, Richard Quick, said when asked about the glare.

But then Quick started speculating about performances during the first five days of the swimming competition, including 12 world records either broken or tied, and the line between what is real and what is not suddenly blurred for me.

"I absolutely do not think that this is a drug-free Olympic Games," Quick said.

He said that he had no evidence, just his intuition, and did not offer specifics. But, considering the spotless reputation that the Stanford coach has built over the last two decades, you have to pay attention when he speaks.

"The [International Olympic Committee] should make it the No. 1 priority to make sure the competition is fair," he said. "I think it's very sad. It's a sad state of affairs when great, great performances in this sport have clouds over them."

That is sad. Until Quick spoke out, I thought that the Sydney International Aquatic Center was the cheeriest place under the Southern Cross. Except for the occasional whispers about De Bruijn, who we need to point out has never failed a drug test, there has been nothing but celebration of the fast times, of the Australian gold medals, of the sport.

Now I'm seeing clouds.

*

Again.

Or should I say still?

The first time I covered the Olympics was in 1976 in Montreal, where U.S. women swimmers complained loud and often about the East Germans. In 1972 in Munich, East German woman swimmers had not won a single gold medal. Four years later, they won 11 of 13 events.

Besides their broad shoulders and well-defined muscles, many of the East German women had deep voices, which the American women said was a sure sign of steroid use. When he heard that, the East German coach laughed and said, "We're here to swim, not sing."

Twenty years later, after the release of secret Stasi files concerning the East Germans' "Miracle Machine" sports system, a lot of their former swimmers were singing--to the courts as they sought restitution for the harm done to their bodies by systematic steroid use.

In 1994, at swimming's World Championships in Rome, Quick was among Western coaches raging against the Chinese women, who were assumed to be on drugs after winning 12 of 16 events. Sure enough, dozens of Chinese women swimmers tested positive for drugs over the next two years, and, in Atlanta in 1996, they won only one gold medal. They have won none here so far.

See what I'm saying. You have to listen to Quick.

He is still bitter about the women's 100 freestyle in Barcelona in 1992, which was won by China's Zhuang Yong.

One of the swimmers that Zhuang beat in Barcelona was Thompson, who won the silver medal. It is her only individual medal. Quick believes it should be gold.

"I know she was cheated in 1992 by a cheater," he said.

*

Thompson, 27, has won more gold medals than any other woman swimmer in Olympic history. Some say there should be an asterisk beside that record, however, because none came in individual events.

She has one more chance to change that, tonight in the 100 freestyle. The favorite is De Bruijn.

Thompson said earlier this year that there was something "fishy" about De Bruijn. Australia's Susie O'Neill has called De Bruijn "sus," as in suspicious.

Asked straight out Wednesday night if he believes De Bruijn is on drugs, Quick said, "I'm going to presume that she's not." He pointed out that she trains in Oregon with Coach Paul Bergen, who is highly respected for his integrity.

But she also trains for part of the year in the Netherlands with the same coach who trains Pieter van den Hoogenband, who has broken two world records and tied another in winning the 100 and 200 freestyles.

Should we be sus?

"People were asking me last night if there was any suspicion of him being a drug cheat," said American Gary Hall Jr., who finished third behind Van den Hoogenband in the 100 freestyle Wednesday night. "You just can't accuse anybody who swims fast of being on drugs."

Yes, you can. It has been happening in swimming for almost a quarter of a century.

Van den Hoogenband's father, a doctor for Dutch soccer team PSV Eindhoven, said that his son had better not be on drugs.

"If Pieter takes drugs, I break his legs and he can't swim any more," Cees-Rein van den Hoogenband said.

It's nice to see that someone still has a sense of humor about the subject. It's an important one, demanding a full airing, but I'm a little weary of it myself. So many questions, so few answers.

I think I'll concentrate for the rest of the week on the Netherlands' baseball team, which upset Cuba on Wednesday. The only question about the Dutch players is whether they're really Dutch. I haven't seen even one of them wearing wooden shoes.

Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: randy.harvey@latimes.com.

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