Error sinks medal hope Minor turn violation disqualifies Quance from her best event

Had won 400 IM by 4 seconds

Local swimmer Metzler almost sure Olympian

March 07, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was just the kind of thing U.S. Swimming didn't need on the first day of its most prestigious event. Kristine Quance, one of the nation's best hopes for an Olympic swimming medal, was disqualified from the 400-meter individual medley yesterday for a minor technical violation and will not compete in her best event in Atlanta.

Quance was far in front of the pack in her heat when she made a technical error in her transition from the backstroke to the breaststroke. She ended up with the best time in the morning preliminaries by four seconds -- and there was little reason to think she gained any significant advantage from the infraction -- but a turn judge disqualified her and buried the U.S. Olympic trials in another layer of unwanted controversy.

Instead of moving into last night's final, Quance had to move over for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club's Whitney Metzler, who finished second behind the University of Florida's Allison Wagner and is almost certain to be named to her first Olympic team.

It didn't take long for the incident to raise unpleasant questions -- about the selective enforcement of U.S. Swimming regulations. U.S. Swimming has been under fire since its Board of Directors voted to rescind a two-year ban levied against Jessica Foschi, 15, for testing positive for steroids at last year's Summer Nationals in Pasadena, Calif. Now, the sport's governing body is left to explain why Quance is not entitled to appeal a ruling that wipes away four years of training and preparation, even though the infraction apparently was unintentional.

"I don't think they are comparable situations," said U.S Swimming executive director Ray Essick. "One was a legal situation and this is a technical rule. It's not an uncommon infraction at all. That's why they have turn judges."

Quance was stunned and at times appeared to be holding back tears during a news conference yesterday afternoon. Her coach at Southern Cal, Mark Schubert, who will be one of the Olympic coaches, was just as emotional, though it was anger that he was trying to hold back.

"I don't think what I think is a hairline judgment would ever have been made during a world championship or the Olympic Games," he said. "I think it's unfortunate."

The disqualification was not the first. Janet Evans was disqualified in the 200-meter backstroke and Dave Wharton in the 200-meter freestyle during the '92 trials, and four-time national champion Anne Mahoney was disqualified from the finals of the 200-meter backstroke in 1988. There was even another DQ in Quance's heat. University of Florida swimmer Abby Goff was disqualified for a stroke violation, but she was not in the hunt for an Olympic berth.

Schubert first sidestepped a question about the Foschi controversy, but he couldn't hold back when pressed on the relative fairness of U.S. Swimming's flip-flop on Foschi's two-year ban and the nature of Quance's technical disqualification.

"One thing I've always been proud of about U.S. Swimming is that we follow the rules -- except for the last four months," Schubert said. "So it's hard to criticize officials here for following the rules, but I think the Board of Directors should learn something about following the rules."

Foschi said that she had never knowingly taken steroids and U.S. Swimming's Board of Directors, acting on evidence that she may have been the victim of sabotage, reduced the two-year ban to two years' probation. The Quance situation isn't exactly ,, analogous because the disqualification was based on a technical infraction that is not in dispute, but it could not have come at a worse time for U.S. Swimming.

Quance finished her preliminary heat nearly nine seconds ahead of Metzler and was expected to battle Wagner for the top spot in the event. But in her absence, Metzler stepped up. There will be other opportunities for Quance to qualify for the Olympics this week, but the 400 IM was considered her best hope for a medal.

"Obviously, when I first heard it, I was shocked," Quance said. "I had no idea what I could have done. . . . I kind of have mixed emotions because this is my best event. It was considered my best shot at making the Olympic team and maybe winning a gold medal. The good side is the benefits of training for the 400 IM. I have so many other opportunities. All I can do is find a way to come back from this."

Her chances at a medal in the 400 IM disappeared in the text of Rule 101.5.3B(2), which states that once the wall is touched, the swimmer may turn in any manner but the shoulders must be at or past the vertical toward the breast when the swimmer leaves the wall. The swimmer must have attained breaststroke form before the first arm stroke.

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