ATLANTA -- It was only four days ago that Amy Van Dyken's Olympic dream seemed headed for disaster. She was carried away on a stretcher after experiencing leg cramps so severe that she collapsed on the pool deck after finishing fourth in the 100-meter freestyle.
Her chances for a multi-medal performance in the XXVI Olympiad suddenly seemed remote, but she came back to help the U.S. team win the 4 x 100 freestyle relay on Monday and earned her first individual gold last night with a heart-stopping victory over China's Liu Li-min in the 100-meter butterfly.
"People told me I should pull out of it because I had no chance to win," said Van Dyken, who proved them wrong and joined Baltimore's Beth Botsford as the only American women to win individual gold medals.
Teammate Angel Martino seemed like a more likely candidate going into the race -- and was the leader for much of the last 50 meters -- but Van Dyken and Liu charged ahead and touched the wall in a near dead heat, with Van Dyken finishing on top by one-hundredth of a second at 59.13.
It was another very upbeat day for the U.S. team, even though it started with a disappointing performance by 400-meter individual-medley gold medalist Tom Dolan, who failed to qualify for the final of the 400 freestyle. The Americans still raised their medal count to 17 in the first four days of the weeklong Olympic competition at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.
American Jeff Rouse finally fulfilled his Olympic dream. He was favored to win the 100-meter backstroke at the '92 Games in Barcelona, but was out-touched by Canadian Mark Tewksbury. This time, he went for the gold, finishing in 54.10 to thwart a surprising performance by Cubans Rodolfo Falcon and Neisser Bent. Fellow American Tripp Shwenk finished a disappointing fifth.
South African Penelope Heyns held off a tremendous charge by precocious 14-year-old American Amanda Beard to win her second gold medal of the Games with an Olympic-record time of 2: 25.41 in the 200-meter breaststroke. Beard also bettered Heyns' old Olympic record with a 2: 25.75 finish.
Gary Hall Jr. brought the U.S. team from behind with a world-record split in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay in carrying it to gold in an event that the United States has never lost. Jon Olson, Josh Davis and former Bowie High swimmer Brad Schumacher swam solid splits to help the U.S. team set an Olympic record, but the Russian team was leading when Hall hit the water.
"I think for underdogs, we've got quite a bit of bite," Van Dyken said. "I think people weren't expecting a lot of us, but we were expecting a lot of ourselves."
If this is the year of the Olympic woman, the U.S. team is taking it very seriously. The American women have won nine swimming medals in the first nine events, including three golds and four silvers. The men's team has four gold and four silver medals.
Rouse waited a long time for his chance to stand on the highest level of the medal platform. He was expected to win gold at the '92 Games, but had to stay around another four years when Tewksbury swam the race of his life to defeat him.
This time, he held off the surprising Cubans and finished just two-tenths off the world record he set during his preliminary heat in Barcelona.
"I didn't want to get out of the pool," Rouse said. "I've visualized this for a long time and I just wanted to bask in the moment, but they had to run the consolation final and I couldn't stay in very long."
There obviously were no hard feelings on the part of Tewksbury, who is working the competition as a television commentator for the Canadian Broadcasting Company and interviewed Rouse on the pool deck immediately after the race.
"I thanked Mark Tewksbury for beating me in '92," Rouse said. "If I hadn't lost then, I wouldn't be standing here. Anyone who's a successful person, whether you're in the business world, a doctor, a lawyer or in athletics, they don't get anywhere without falling on their faces at least once. That's what I did in '92."
The women's team was looking for one more gold medal last night, but Beard's attempt to pull off one of the great comebacks in Olympic swimming history fell just short and she had to settle for her second silver of the Games.
Beard got off slowly and was more than two seconds behind Heyns at the final turn, but made a tremendous rush in the final 40 meters to set up another in a night of fantastic finishes.
"She's really fast on the first 100," Beard said. "I try not to go out with her because, if I do, I know I'll die. If I went for it sooner, I probably wouldn't have had enough speed at the end. I was pretty tired."
Heyns, who also defeated Beard in the 100-meter breaststroke, hugged her in the pool and gave her some words of encouragement.
"She told me, 'Congratulations, and I still have Australia [in 2000] to win the gold.' "
In the relay, Hall got a measure of revenge for his loss to Aleksandr Popov in the 100-meter freestyle. The Russian took the second leg of the relay and almost matched Matt Biondi's world-record split with a 47.88, giving the Russian team a lead that held up until Hall exploded off the block in the anchor leg.
He did eclipse Biondi and left no doubt about the outcome in the last 50 meters, giving the U.S. men's team its second relay gold. Schumacher and Davis, of Athletes in Action, swam in both relays.
It was a historic victory -- and not just because the United States has won the event each of the seven times it has been held in the Olympics. The gold medal was the 100th by the U.S. men's swim team in the history of the modern Olympic Games.
Pub Date: 7/24/96