Botsford can add to glitter today If U.S. gains relay final, she'll swim backstroke leg

Atlanta Olympics

July 24, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- North Baltimore backstroker Beth Botsford, who became the first American woman to win a gold medal at the Atlanta Games on Monday night, goes for her second gold medal today in the women's 4 x 100 medley relay.

She'll probably get it.

The U.S. team has to be considered the favorite in the second women's relay event, and Botsford -- by virtue of her victory in the 100-meter backstroke -- has earned the opportunity to swim that leg of the relay if the Americans make the final tonight.

Silver medalist Whitney Hedgepeth will swim the backstroke in the preliminary round, and both will qualify for a medal if the U.S. Stephens team is among the top three finishers in the final.

Don't bet against that. The American women have never managed worse than a silver medal in this event, except when the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, and the swimmers scheduled to compete today don't figure to be the first to miss the medal ceremony.

"Based on what we've done and what other people have done so far, they should do real well," said Olympic assistant coach Murray Stephens, who also coaches Botsford for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. "They should be able to break the American record and could break the world record. It wouldn't be easy, but it's not unrealistic."

The makeup of the relay squad is determined by the coaching staff, and it is based in part on the way the relay talent pool competes in individual events. Botsford earned the night swim when she edged Hedgepeth in the 100-meter final. If she had finished behind Hedgepeth, their relay roles would have been reversed.

Angel Martino and Amy Van Dyken will swim the freestyle and butterfly segments if the U.S. team reaches the final, and California 14-year-old Amanda Beard figures to swim the breaststroke.

Botsford is attempting to follow in the footsteps of fellow NBAC swimmer Anita Nall, who won three medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Nall won a gold, a silver and a bronze, swimming to victory in the medley relay -- the only event she and Botsford will have in common. Nall took the silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke and bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke.

The U.S. team is not a lock for gold. The Chinese women were considered the favorites when the Olympics began, but they have swum badly through the first four days of competition.

The most popular theory for their failure is that they have cleaned up their program -- which was riddled with steroid abuse in the early 1990s -- and are finding it difficult to reclaim the level of performance that carried them to five world records at the 1994 world championships in Rome.

The American women, meanwhile, have risen to the occasion, but not so much that they can be considered overachievers. There have been just two American records set through the first four days of competition, so it may be more a case of several other countries failing to live up to expectations.

"I think that most of the world has stepped back," Stephens said, "and we've stepped up."

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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