Carrying a heavy burden, Crow propels U.S. to bronze

Her participation caused controversy after accident

Synchronized Swimming

Athens 2004 Olympics

August 28, 2004|By Rick Maese | Rick Maese,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ATHENS - It's hard to celebrate sometimes. Not when it's like this. Tammy Crow was supposed to share this medal, just as she thought she'd share her life.

She won bronze last night, a flyer on the U.S. synchronized swimming team. Crow accepted it with pride on the medal stand and will soon leave Greece for uncertainty, her past hanging much heavier than any medal.

"It's been a roller coaster," she said after her team's performance. "I've had the worst part of my life and the best part of my life."

When Crow, 27, returns to her Santa Clara, Calif., home, she knows what's around the corner. In October, she'll begin serving a 90-day jail sentence for vehicular homicide.

In February 2003, Crow was behind the wheel of her boyfriend's Nissan Pathfinder when it slid out of control, crashing into two trees. She broke some bones, but both passengers - her boyfriend, Cody Tatro, and 12-year-old Brett Slinger, a student of Tatro's - died.

In January, a judge agreed to postpone her sentence until after the Olympics.

Crow became one of the most controversial figures surrounding the Summer Games. But she never lost hope she could excel in Athens.

"We both had plans to make our lives together. ... I don't know what to do now," she said of her boyfriend.

Preparing for the Games wasn't easy, she said. There were times she didn't want to come to practice, times her teammates had to show up, plead with her, drag her.

Navigating and negotiating her feelings has been a nonstop battle, she said.

"I felt like I was running a maze in my head," she said.

Crow has hardly been portrayed as a sympathetic character. Her sport has traditionally lived well below the public's radar, usually only surfacing as a punch line. But as Crow battled for permission to compete in these Games, critics popped up everywhere, from newspaper columnists to victims' advocates. The parents of Slinger, the young boy who died, have said Crow shouldn't have been allowed to compete in the Games.

In Athens, the team has met little criticism.

"Fortunately, people have been very, very kind," said Chris Carver, coach of the U.S. synchronized swimming team.

The only time the group worried about Crow's state of mind was earlier this week, when copies of USA Today began to circulate. Inside was a column critical of Crow's inclusion in the Olympics.

"Everybody was worried for her and wanted to hide the newspaper," said Carver.

Crow saw it, but her nerves weren't shaken. Her teammates said it would have been difficult competing without Crow.

"It was so exciting for our team to have her here as a swimmer and the spirit she is," said team captain Anna Kozlova. "The Games meant even more for us to have her here."

Carver again defended Crow's placement on the team, saying she's well-versed in the rules of synchronized swimming, both in the United States and internationally.

"This girl did not do anything that should have prevented her [from competing]," Carver said. "I don't say that lightly."

The coach never considered pulling Crow from the team. Crow was not a part of Thursday's performance in the preliminary round, but was in yesterday's finals.

"I know Tammy really well. Tammy is a very focused person," said Carver. "She wouldn't let anything affect the team."

The Russians' winning score was 99.501. Japan took second with 98.501, and the United States was nearly three points back, finishing at 96.751.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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