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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Thompson's Time to Come to Terms With All That Jazz

September 24, 2000|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — The jazz metaphor for the perplexing career of Jenny Thompson sounded dead on, so accurate.

Her longtime coach and mentor, Richard Quick, squinted at the reporter who was trying to explain the other day that, while Thompson might sound great in quartet, she couldn't cut it as a solo artist.

Quick politely disagreed. Then again, you get the idea that the only music most swim coaches hear is the ticking of a stopwatch.

But, by the completion of the Olympic swimming competition, the theory was more convincing than ever. On the final day, Thompson, 27, ended her Olympic career by winning her eighth gold medal, all of them coming in relays.

She has won 10 medals in all, tying for a bronze in the 100-meter freestyle here with teammate Dara Torres and a silver at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

The only Olympic female athlete with more gold medals than Thompson is gymnast Larissa Lathynina of the former Soviet Union, who won nine.

Thompson's final Olympic gold medal came in the 400 medley relay with teammates Megan Quann, B.J. Bedford and Torres. On the medal stand, Torres cried and tears were squirting from Bedford's eyes. Quann was smiling widely, and Thompson was her usual composed self.

She has never relished the spotlight, not the way triple gold medalist Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands basks in it. De Bruijn was accommodating after her world record in the semifinals of the 50 freestyle Friday night, conducting consecutive interviews hours after the race and, still later was handing out her business card, complete with her address and mobile phone number.

Here, Thompson sailed through the mixed-zone interviews faster than she moved in the pool.

Next for her is medical school. But not immediately. "I'm going to party harder than I ever have in my life," Thompson said.

Thus, the book had closed on one of the most impressive careers of an Olympic athlete, and Thompson was getting a realistic handle on the situation, days removed from the disappointment of the 100 freestyle. "I had time to sit down and think and reevaluate," she said. "I hadn't thought about the big picture. I hadn't had a chance to do that.

"I've come to terms with not winning the individual gold, and I'm so happy I've dealt with that. This whole experience makes up for any shortcomings I may have had."

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