Smith splashes to third gold Irish swimmer wins 200 medley despite sore shoulder

Drug questions continue

Goes for fourth medal in butterfly tomorrow

Atlanta Olympics

July 25, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Ireland's Michelle Smith has been under an international microscope since she arrived at the XXVI Olympiad. Her age and her incredible improvement over the past couple of years have left her under an umbrella of steroid-related suspicion, and a recent International Olympic Committee ruling that stretched the entry requirements for one of her events only added to the cloud of controversy.

Through it all, she has made herself the winningest athlete so far of the 1996 Atlanta Games, shaking off a slight shoulder injury to win last night's 200-meter individual medley and her third gold medal. She will compete in the 200 butterfly tomorrow.

She has become an Irish sports hero, but outside her country she has been vilified for being too good to be true -- without any substantial proof that she has done anything wrong.

Does she or doesn't she use performance-enhancing drugs? That is the question going around the swimming world, and the issue doesn't figure to subside until all of the Olympic drug-testing results are in.

U.S. women's coach Richard Quick tried to be diplomatic after last night's victory, but he said he couldn't help but wonder.

"She was what, 70th in the world, and now she's on the way to four Olympic gold medals?" he said. "That's pretty hard to believe."

Smith, 26, has tried to stay above it all. She won the gold in the 400 individual medley last Saturday night and the talk began. She won the 400 freestyle and weathered another storm of controversy when the United States and two other countries protested her presence in the race.

"I just have to laugh at it," she said. "Every time I'm tested, it comes back negative. For every one time a member of the U.S. team is tested, I'm tested five times.

"I hear the things that Janet Evans has been insinuating and I look back at 1988 and the events that she won. She swam the JTC 400-meter free in 4: 03 and I swam it in 4: 07, but she says she's clean and I'm taking drugs. If I'm taking drugs, I should be swimming faster than her, but she's swimming faster than me."

Last night, Smith won the 200 individual medley in 2 minutes, 13.93 seconds. Marianne Limpert of Canada took silver in 2: 14.35, and Lin Li of China won the bronze medal in 2: 14.74.

Smith has been, at the very least, the victim of guilt by association, because she is married to former track athlete Erik de Bruin, whose name was prominent in a drug scandal in 1993.

"I think it's unfair to jump to that conclusion," said U.S. breaststroker Kurt Grote, who along with teammate Eric Wunderlich failed to medal in the 200 breaststroke last night. "Every one who wins a medal gets tested. She's getting tested after every race. There's too much hard work that goes into being a swimmer to make accusations like that."

Three-time American medalist Angel Martino, who was banned from the 1988 Olympics because she tested positive for a substance that no longer is on the restricted list, agrees.

"I think it's sad that every time someone swims great, it must be because of drugs," Martino said. "I think you have to just assume she's a great swimmer until proven otherwise."

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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