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ATHENS 2004

Fine Doesn't Quiet Hall

U.S. swimmer speaks out about punishment he received for wearing a boxing robe at the pool and about being left off 400 relay team.

August 24, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — This time, when an athlete says it's not about the money, it really isn't about the money.

Gary Hall Jr. will be able to handle paying the $5,000 fine from USA Swimming for wearing a red, white and blue boxing robe on the pool deck shortly before he defended his Olympic title in the 50-meter freestyle last week. What he can't come to terms with is what he perceives as a restraint of his patriotism.

"I don't see a problem with being patriotic," he said. "I'm not ashamed of the American colors. This fear of being a target has left a negative impact on the team. There isn't anti-American sentiment here. There were more boos in Australia.

"The Americans are on their best behavior. We can still be respectful and patriotic at the same time. I don't see a problem with the stars and stripes.

"How can you tell an athlete to tone it down? The people that are telling the athletes to tone it down have never been there."

Hall, 29, was sitting in a lounge at the Intercontinental Hotel on Sunday, the day after the completion of the eight-day swim meet.

He discussed his plans for his fledgling Race Club, but the fine and his discontent with the sport's bureaucracy, namely U.S. men's Coach Eddie Reese, and USA Swimming sponsor Speedo dominated the discussion.

Hall said he knew he would be fined for violating the dress code on the deck. But he said he felt that Speedo had some influence on the imposition of the penalty.

"How can I say this without bashing Speedo?" he said. "Yeah."

But Stu Isaac, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Speedo, said it did not carry any weight in the decision-making process with USA Swimming

"To be honest, I didn't even know about the fine," he said Monday. "We do not make any policy decisions, nor do we make any coaching decisions."

So does Speedo care about the issue?

"Certainly we care. We're the official sponsor," Isaac said.

Hall didn't hide his displeasure with Reese, who did not use him in the final of the 400-meter relay, opting to stay with ailing Ian Crocker, who swam for Reese at the University of Texas. He also felt Reese gave Michael Phelps "a free pass" onto the freestyle relay.

"It's hard for him to look worse than he already does because it was the wrong decision," Hall said of Reese. "He kept Ian on the relay even though he knew he was very sick. And he didn't follow the selection process. Why even bother having a selection process if you're not going to follow it?"

Reese had said he simply went by time, and that Hall did not swim fast enough in the morning preliminary heats of the freestyle relay to be included.

Hall's brushes with authority have not undermined his popularity with other swimmers.

Ian Thorpe of Australia smiled when asked about Hall's recent supportive message after FINA ripped Thorpe for taking a tough stance on doping.

"I appreciate it," Thorpe said in an interview Monday. "Gary, although an unusual character, I really like him. I think he's a good guy."

Thorpe is intrigued by Hall's Race Club and its effort to transform swimming with international match races.

"Something needs to be done in promoting the sport in other ways, alternatives to what has been happening in the past," Thorpe said. "Just another way the sport can get out there."

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