U.S. sets 800 freestyle record

Tainted E. German mark is erased in relay victory

Women's Swimming

Athens 2004

August 19, 2004|By Jerry Brewer | Jerry Brewer,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ATHENS - The three swimmers stood poolside, hopping and embracing repeatedly. The other, Kaitlin Sandeno, stayed in the pool, beaming, and tried to twirl, which is also awfully difficult to do in a swimming pool.

The four women - Sandeno, Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer and Carly Piper - won the 800-meter freestyle relay last night at the Olympic Aquatic Centre. While doing so, they removed a 17-year-old record, a mark once seen as inglorious and tainted.

Until the American quartet swam 800 meters in 7 minutes, 53.42 seconds, the former East Germany held the record. Olympic history now portrays the East German female swimmers as a group of cheaters, most of whom unknowingly were injected with performance-enhancing dope so that a country could exert dominance.

As the years have passed, the conspiracy has been unraveled, the tale increasing in absurdity with each revelation. The mischief is said to have occurred from the Munich Games in 1976 until the end of the 1980s.

So these American swimmers did more than thrill for a night. They shoved a disturbing memory from consciousness.

"It burns people a lot," U.S. women's swim coach Mark Schubert said of the old East German record. "And we all know the reason why. We're very proud to have that record back."

Coughlin led off, swam an amazing last 100 meters, and from there, the race seemed easy. It concluded with Sandeno and her playfulness, a joy that would continue through the night.

Told her team had bested a record older than she, Vollmer, 16, who had heart surgery a year ago and must carry a defibrillator to meets, giggled and said: "Yeah, it's fun."

They didn't know what they had done. They cleared a blotch on the face of swimming, but it was unimportant to them.

"We didn't know that until afterward," Coughlin said, brushing off inquisitors searching for the record's significance.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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