No win, but a golden moment for Martino American swimmer gives bronze medal to friend with cancer

Atlanta Olympics

July 21, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- "The Star-Spangled Banner" was not played once at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center last night, but the opening day of the Olympic swimming competition still produced one truly all-American moment.

Georgia swimmer Angel Martino won the first American swimming medal of the Atlanta Games with a third-place finish in the 100-meter freestyle, then gave it to a friend and fellow swimmer who is battling cancer.

Martino draped her bronze medal around the neck of Trisha Henry, 20, in the emotional aftermath of an eventful first day for the U.S. team. Henry has been fighting to get her cancer into remission so that she can resume her collegiate swimming career, and Martino said she wanted to do something to recognize that life's true battles are not waged in a swimming pool.

"I saw her a couple of weeks ago, and she really inspired me," said Martino, 29. "It really grounded me and convinced me what's really important."

This is the same Angel Martino who missed the '88 Olympics in the prime of her career because of a positive steroid test, and there she was giving away one of the three medals she has won in Olympic competition since then. She won a gold and a bronze at Barcelona in 1992, and now has become one of the oldest women to medal in Olympic swimming.

She might have had several more if not for a doping scandal she still denies involving a substance that no longer is on the banned list, and yet she could not see the irony in the seemingly easy decision to give the medal away.

"I don't know," she said. "It was just something I wanted to do. For me, it wasn't about the medals. It's about the experience and the memories."

The rest of the U.S. team can worry about the medal count, which stood at three after the first four events. Jeremy Linn of Harrisburg, Pa., took the silver in the men's 100 breaststroke, and Florida's Allison Wagner finished second in the 400 individual medley.

"It was not expected to be one of our better days," said assistant women's coach Greg Troy, "and we stood up well."

The only real disappointment came in the same race in which Martino finished behind Chinese world record holder Le Jingyi and German Sandra Volker. Colorado's Amy Van Dyken suffered a severe thigh cramp on the way to a fourth-place finish and may be handicapped in her remaining three events.

There was concern coming into the competition that the slow U.S. Olympic trials were an indication that the U.S. team would not be a major force, but two swimmers set lifetime bests and Linn would have broken a world record if Belgian Frederik DeBurghgraeve didn't beat him to it.

DeBurghgraeve swam a 1: 00.60 in the sixth preliminary heat of the 100 breaststroke, breaking the previous record of 1: 00.95, set by Hungarian Karoly Guttler in 1993.

DeBurghgraeve almost duplicated that performance on the way to a gold medal in the final, and Linn swam fast enough to break Guttler's old world record with a 1: 00.77 to win the U.S. team's first silver medal.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the opening day was the relatively poor performance of the controversial Chinese women. Le won the gold medal in the 100 freestyle, but three other highly rated Chinese women failed to get out of the preliminaries.

Le qualified first in the 100 freestyle prelim, but Ying Shan -- who had an even better entry time -- failed to make the final.

The two entries in the 400 intermediate medley were not even competitive. Yan Chen and Yanyan Wu were considered a potential gold-silver combination, but both finished well behind the leaders in their respective heats. Yan finished more than 13 seconds off her qualifying time and 10 seconds behind Ireland's Michelle Smith, the eventual gold medalist. Yanyan also finished about 13 seconds off her entry time and 18th overall in the event.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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