Van Dyken's 4th gold is U.S. first Freestyle win gives her four at one Games, record for U.S. woman

Laughed at in high school

U.S. swimmers notch world mark, 26 medals

Atlanta Olympics

July 27, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The book on Amy Van Dyken has a chapter for each of the four gold medals she won during the Olympic swimming competition, including the victory last night in the 50-meter freestyle that made her the first American woman ever to win that many events in any sport in a single Olympiad.

There is the inspirational story, the one in which Van Dyken collapses with severe leg cramps on the first day of competition and comes back to win her first gold medal two nights later.

There is the touching human story, the one in which a young girl with asthma dreams of becoming an Olympic champion and then realizes that dream four times over.

There is the not-so-noble story, the one in which Van Dyken happily admits that she is savoring the opportunity to rub her success in the face of every kid who made fun of her at high school swim practice.

And there is the news story. Van Dyken got off the starting block slowly last night, but came back to out-touch Chinese world-record holder Le Jingyi in an American record time of 24.87. Germany's Sandra Volker took the bronze and fellow American Angel Martino fell just short in her attempt to win her fifth medal in Atlanta.

The U.S. team finished with a total of 26 medals in the swimming competition after a productive night in which Brad Bridgewater and Tripp Schwenk finished one-two in the 200-meter backstroke and the men's team shattered the world record in the 400-meter medley relay for the 13th American gold.

Van Dyken didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but she arrived last night as one of America's greatest Olympic athletes, something even she never envisioned growing up in Englewood, Colo. Her performance was so impressive that someone accidentally called her "Janet," as in Evans, during the post-race news conference.

"I never expected anything like this, that's for sure," said Van Dyken, who also eclipsed such U.S. notables as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Mary Lou Retton and Bonnie Blair with four golds in one Olympiad. "To the girls who gave me a hard time in high school, thank you. That was definitely a motivation."

Van Dyken wasn't the best swimmer at Cherry Creek High School, and some of the other girls on the team let her know it.

"I was made fun of because I was so bad," she said. "I remember one time I had a towel over my head on the pool deck and the three girls on the medley relay team didn't know I was behind them. I found out that they refused to be on the team with me because I was so terrible."

Now, her name is being mentioned with the greatest Olympic swimmers of all time. She finished fourth in her first medal race last Saturday, but came back to win gold medals in the 400-meter freestyle relay, the 100-meter butterfly, the 400 medley relay and last night's 50-meter freestyle.

"It's really special to be considered among the athletes who came before me," Van Dyken said. "Somebody asked me if I compare myself to Janet, but that's like apples and oranges. She has four individual gold medals. I got two in the relay."

There is still time to get more. Van Dyken will be 27 the next time the Olympic flame is ignited in Sydney, Australia, and she isn't ruling out another four years in the pool.

The world records in the sprints are still out there. She came within three-tenths of a second of breaking Le's record in the 50-meter last night and felt that she could have gotten off the starting block faster.

nTC "The start is the weakest part of my swimming," Van Dyken said. "I knew I was going to be behind. She [Le] has been swimming so well. I was just hoping that I would be able to pull it out at the end."

The 200-meter backstroke also came down to an exciting finish, with Bridgewater winning by an arm's length and Schwenk barely out-touching bronze medalist Emanuele Merisi of Italy.

The American victory in the 400-meter medley relay was no surprise, but the U.S. team won in 3: 34.84, more than two seconds better than the previous world record, which was set by the United States in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

Breaststroker Jeremy Linn swam the fastest breast split in history to help the United States remain undefeated in this event in the Olympics and World Championships.

Pool of success

The U.S. men's and women's teams combined for 13 gold medals and 26 medals overall in the swimming competition:

Men (12)

Gold (6)

Brad Bridgewater, 200 backstroke

Tom Dolan, 400 indiv. medley

Jeff Rouse, 100 backstroke

U.S. team, 4x100 freestyle relay

U.S. team, 4x200 freestyle relay

U.S. team, 400 medley relay

Silver (6)

Gary Hall Jr., 50 freestyle

Gary Hall Jr., 100 freestyle

Jeremy Linn,100 breaststroke

Tom Malchow, 200 butterfly

Eric Namesnik, 400 indiv. medley

Tripp Schwenk,, 200 backstroke

Women (14)

Gold (7)

Brooke Bennett, 800 freestyle

Beth Botsford, 100 backstroke

Amy Van Dyken, 50 freestyle

Amy Van Dyken, 100 butterfly

U.S. team, 4x100 freestyle relay

U.S. team, 4x200 freestyle relay

U.S. team, 400 medley relay

Silver (5)

Amanda Beard, 100 breaststroke

Amanda Beard, 200 breaststroke

Whitney Hedgepeth, 100 backstroke

Whitney Hedgepeth, 200 backstroke

Allison Wagner, 400 indiv. medley

Bronze (2)

Angel Martino, 100 butterfly

Angel Martino, 100 freestyle

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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