HAVANA -- The pain hit Mark Dean in the darkness of a movie theater in March 1990, as he was watching "The Hunt for Red October." He knew instantly that it wasn't just another bout of asthma.
"Air pockets were forming on the top of the right lung," he said. "The lung collapsed, and doctors put a tube in and sucked the air out. No problem."
Two months later, the problem returned. Dean was moving furniture and he felt the same sharp pain and he knew that this was far more serious. He went to a hospital and underwent surgery.
A foot-long scar on his right side remains. But at least the swimmer can breathe easily again.
Yesterday, Dean continued his comeback by winning the gold )) medal in the men's 200-meter butterfly at the Pan American Games. His triumph ignited a six-event, gold-medal sweep by the United States.
Other U.S. winners were Lisa Summers in the 200 individual medley (2 minutes, 16.86 seconds), Jane Skillman in the 800 freestyle (8:43.26), Todd Pace in the 50 freestyle (22.60), Andy Gill in the 100 backstroke (55.79) and the women's 400 medley relay (4:12.51), which set a Pan Am record.
Overall, the United States has won 19 of 26 swimming events, with six finals scheduled for today.
"We're steadily gaining ground against the Cubans for the gold-medal lead, and we're happy about that," Summers said. "Fidel Castro was here the other night cheering for Cuba. We were disappointed he didn't show up for these races."
Dean, 23, from Kansas City, Mo., easily won his race, pulling away from Surinam's Anthony Nesty on the opening lap and finishing in 2:00.11.
"A lot of times, I close my eyes during the races," he said. "It's easy to get caught up in what other guys are doing. My coaches always told me I needed to swim with blinders on. But winning this race gives me confidence. Maybe these aren't the best athletes in the world. Maybe Nesty's best race is the 100. But this is important to me."
Dean, winner of the consolation 200 butterfly final at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, said he was unsure if he would continue swimming after his collapsed lung. He was "burned out," even before his medical problems.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do," he said.
But the discipline of training after surgery has given Dean a new focus. He is ready to resume training next week to earn a berth at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
"After this win, I'm definitely back into this sport," he said. "I've had my doubts, especially in the last few months. Now, I'm excited. I'm back to where I was before. Hopefully, I can make that next step. I can breathe, and I can race."