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September 21, 2000
US swim coach raises drugs bogeyJulian Linden
The head coach of the United States swimming team said on Wednesday that he was convinced some swimmers at the Sydney Olympics were using performance-enhancing drugs.
Richard Quick said he could not name individuals or teams he suspected of cheating but said that he was dismayed at the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) existing drug-testing procedures.
"I absolutely do not think this is a drugs-free Olympics," Quick said. "And I'm disappointed in the quality and frequency of testing that is done by the governing body of the Olympics.
"I'm not pointing the finger at anybody or any nation here but I'm going on intuition."
Quick said his suspicions had been raised by the number of world records being set at Sydney's International Aquatic Centre.
Four world records were set during the seven days of swimming at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Eleven world records have been set and another tied in the first five days at Sydney.
"I ask those people (the IOC) and challenge them to make it a number one priority to ensure the great performances we've seen at this meet don't have a shadow over them due to performance-enhancing drug possibilities," Quick added.
His views were not shared by some of the top competitors asked about drugs earlier on Wednesday.
Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands, who set world records in the semifinals of the 100 and 200 freestyle before winning gold in both events, said: "It's almost impossible to take drugs.
"We are swimmers and we have some rules. One of the rules is you don't take drugs."
American sprinter Gary Hall, who finished third behind van den Hoogenband in the 100 freestyle final, said: "You just can't accuse anybody whose swimming fast of being drugs."
An IOC spokesman has defended the drug testing programme.
Miffed by the US coach's charge, the IOC is scheduled to speak to him this morning. "We want to know why he said what he said," the spokesman said.
Additional reporting by the Rediff Team: In the Games city, drugs in the pool is very much the buzzword. And perhaps not so strangely, the target for much of the buzz is 'Flying Dutchman' Pieter Van Den Hoogenband, who upstaged home-brewed hero Ian Thorpe in the latter's pet event, the 200m freestyle.
'Hoogenbanned', read some banners flashed occasionally at the poolside before being quickly hidden -- almost as if the spectators want to make their point, but are ashamed of being seen as sore losers.
And coaches merely nod wisely when the subject comes up, flash enigmatic smiles, and refuse to say a word, pro or con. Nice ploy -- you can't take a person, in or outside of libel courts, for smiling.
The buzz began only after Hoogenband smashed the 100m freestyle world record set up by Australia's own Michael Klim, while leading off for the hosts in the relay. And much of the 'informed opinion' centres on the Dutchman's sudden surge into the spotlight, with runaway wins in both the 100 and 200 metre sprint events.
'Where was Hoogenband all this while? To surge like this, he has to be doing something' is the tenor of the 'informed opinion'.
That buzz seems to ignore the fact that all of last year, the Dutchman has been strolling casually through international meets, never putting his full effort into his swims. He did hold the world 100m title for a while, before double Olympics gold medallist Alexander Popov snatched it back, but even then, said he was not swimming at his peak.
"I am training hard for the Olympics," was Hoogenband's stock answer, whenever quizzed about his less than par swims through the run-up year to the Olympics. That training appears to be now paying off, as the Dutchman showed a clean pair of heels to his more fancied opponents.
The Aussie fan at poolside seems a touch ambivalent. On the one hand, they feel bound to support Hoogenband -- the Aussies have a reputation for treating top swimmers like rock stars, and failing to applaud the Dutchman would be seen as bad sportsmanship on their part.
But on the other hand, there is the fact that the Dutchman has almost single-handedly spoilt what was seen as a straight face-off between the Aussies and the Americans. The host nation badly wanted to top the pool medal placings, and counted on a four-gold effort by Ian Thorpe to power them to the top of the table. As it turned out, Thorpe was humbled over the 200m freestyle by Hoogenband, who added insult to injury later in the programme by blasting Michael Klim out of the water with a blistering swim in the 100m.
When Misty Hyman rounded off a miserable day for the Aussies in the pool (2 silvers and one bronze in four finals) on Wednesday, the buzz gained in volume. More so, because the hosts were expecting an Aussie one-two in the women's 200m butterfly. With Susan 'Madame Butterfly' O'Neill and Petria Thomas, backed by a full-throated home crowd, swimming for the hosts, 'gold and silver and who cares who takes bronze' was the mood of the evening -- until Hyman burst through with a superb swim that upstaged local darling O'Neill.
'They must be using something' about sums up the consensus in the host town now. But another body of opinion, coming from spectators more interested in sport than in jingoism, rubbishes such fears. 'You can't, when the Australians win, talk of talent but switch to talking of drugs when others win,' comments one such spectator.
A factor in the equation is the pool itself. Determined to produce 'dead calm' conditions, or get as close to it as possible, the designers of the International Acquatic Centre deepened the pool to reduce the 'bounce-back', innovated with plastic paddles on the lane ropes to muffle the wake, and created a little 'edge' outside the last lanes (the pool has 10 lanes for eight swimmers, the ones at either end being left empty as part of the planning) to allow the waves to damp down.
Together, these factors have significantly reduced the turbulence in the pool, and expert opinon is that it has created conditions conducive to fast times. And how -- 11 world records in five days in the pool, contrasts with four world records broken in Atlanta 1996.
No swimmer, thus far, has been touched even remotely by suspicion. Yet the buzz, fuelled perhaps by disappointment, goes on.
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