BARCELONA, Spain -- It was just past 9 o'clock Saturday night when 26-year-old Ron Karnaugh marched into the Olympic Stadium, a member of the U.S. swimming team. And much to Karnaugh's wonder, as he encircled the stadium next to teammate Joel Thomas, he spotted his parents sitting among 70,000 people in the stands. And they had seen him.
"We actually saw them during the parade," said Thomas. "His dad looked good, he was excited. There were so many people in that stadium, it's pretty neat to see your parents."
Neater in this case than most. Karnaugh's hometown of Maplewood, N.J., had raised approximately $27,000 to send his parents, Peter and Jean, and his sister, Debbie, to Barcelona, to watch the Games. "They came here to see their son swim well," said Terry Stoddard, coach of the Mission Viejo (Calif.) Nadadores.
Less than an hour after Ron Karnaugh passed in front of the stands, his 60-year-old father suffered an apparent heart attack. Peter Karnaugh died in an emergency clinic at the stadium.
After the opening ceremony, Ron Karnaugh returned to the Olympic Village, unaware that his father had died. U.S. Olympic Committee officials contacted his coach and asked him to come to the village to awaken him.
"It was 4:10 [a.m.] when I got there," Stoddard said. He awakened Karnaugh, but only to bring him to his mother. He did not tell him what had happened. They walked for a short time, "30 seconds," Stoddard said. "It wasn't an experience I would ever want to duplicate."
The Karnaugh family was then taken to a hotel in Barcelona. Ron Karnaugh has told friends and coaches that he will swim as scheduled Friday in the 200-meter individual medley, which he won at the U.S. Olympic trials in March. "He has confirmed that he will swim and swim well," said Stoddard.
Such an attitude is consistent with Karnaugh's reputation as one of the U.S. team's most unrelenting competitors. "He's one intense swimmer," said teammate Shaun Jordan. Thomas said: "There are three ways he can let this affect him: He can let it affect him in a negative way, he can just go out and do what he was going to do, or he can turn it to his advantage and do something special. He's got a tough race. He's a tough guy. I think he'll be OK."