Hall Jr. sets self apart in 50 freestyle

4 years after tying for gold, American nips Draganja to repeat as sprint champ

Men's Swimming

Athens Olympics 2004

August 21, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Gary Hall Jr. walked into a news conference carrying a potted orchid arrangement, courtesy of French television.

"Defiance is fun," said the veteran who knows how to play, and win, Olympic sprints.

Four years ago, Hall shared the gold medal in swimming's 50-meter freestyle with Anthony Ervin, a training partner. Last night, he repeated, a hundredth of a second in front of Duje Draganja, a Croatian who's part of The Race Club, a project Hall heads in South Florida.

America's oldest male Olympic swimmer since 1928, Hall, 29, has always done things his way, from unorthodox training methods to coping with diabetes to the boxing robe he wears during introductions, against U.S. Olympic Committee protocol.

"I'll probably get in a lot of trouble," Hall said, "for not wearing a team uniform. ... It's hard to take me seriously sometimes, but consistently, I've gotten results."

On Monday, Hall cruised to a Greek isle with his wife. Perhaps it was to get away from missing out on the 400 freestyle relay final Sunday for the first time in his three Olympics. Hall complained about being bumped by Michael Phelps.

"I didn't want to come across as bitter," Hall said. "I was bitter. It's best not to say anything. I've been a part of it so long. That's why I took it personally."

Hall anchored the Americans to gold in 1996 and had that role again in 2000, when the United States suffered a historic loss to Australia.

"In 1996, I was told I was too immature," said Hall, who, along with his father, Gary, makes up the first father-son combination to compete in three Olympics. "This time, I'm told I'm too old."

Hall won in 21.93 seconds last night, a final notable for the absence of a man he has no liking for, Alexander Popov of Russia. Draganja is so strong, he took silver in the 50 less than a half-hour after finishing seventh in the 100 butterfly.

"Maybe Popov doesn't like him," Draganja said, "but I love him."

Hall became only the third American male to win here, but with Phelps taking four individual events and Aaron Peirsol sweeping the backstrokes, the United States will win a majority of the individual events, seven of the 13.

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