- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

ATHENS — Aaron Peirsol stood on the deck of the Olympic pool, waiting for his gold medal to be confirmed on the scoreboard.

A mere formality.

The world’s greatest backstroker had touched the wall more than two seconds ahead of the runner-up. He already had shaken hands with his rivals when the shocking results were flashed.


“I knew I had done nothing wrong,” he said.

A half-hour later, the gold was restored — just in time for the medal ceremony. Then more protests. Finally, a late-night meeting confirmed Peirsol’s victory yesterday in the 200-meter backstroke.

On a night Americans dominated at the Olympic pool, it was the most convoluted of gold medals.

Not even Michael Phelps — winning his fourth gold and still on course for an historic Olympics — could top the brouhaha that broke out when Peirsol’s easy win in his signature event was momentarily snatched away.

Peirsol hasn’t lost the 200 since the Sydney Olympics four years ago, but that streak appeared over when a judge ruled he made an illegal move on the last turn.

Before the Americans could protest, the sport’s governing body announced that the judge did not adequately explain the alleged violation “in the working language of FINA” — English or French. Peirsol was given his gold.

For good measure, Amanda Beard captured the first individual gold of her illustrious career, in the 200-meter breaststroke. Only a victory by Australian Jodie Henry in the women’s 100-meter freestyle prevented an American sweep.

Austria’s Markus Rogan, who finished more than two seconds behind Peirsol, had briefly been feted as the 200 gold medalist. When the decision was changed, he didn’t seem too upset about settling for silver.

“Aaron is a very honest person. I am sure he swam fairly,” said Rogan, a close friend of the American. “For a moment, I thought about gold and the idea was just beautiful but, after all, it’s fair like this.”

But the Austrians protested the ruling, as did Britain after its swimmer, James Goddard, was bumped from third to fourth. About 21/2 hours after the race, FINA rejected the appeals, giving bronze to Romania’s Razvan Florea.

Backstrokers turn on their stomachs heading into the wall, and the rule states that any kick or arm stroke must be part of the continuous turning action. Apparently, the judge felt Peirsol got an extra kick as he went into his final turn.

“It’s almost something you can’t see,” said U.S. men’s coach Eddie Reese, who reviewed the race tape. “To call Aaron on that, you would’ve had to disqualify the other seven guys in backstroke for the same thing.”

Peirsol, who earlier won the 100 backstroke, was baffled by the whole ordeal.

“Man, it was a roller coaster,” he said. “I feel bad for everybody in that field. It was a weird call. I’m happy it was overturned, though.”

Otherwise, it was a smooth night for the Americans, who received five medals in all. Ryan Lochte’s silver in the 200 medley was part of a 1-2 finish with Phelps, the bronze going to George Bovell of Trinidad.

And Natalie Coughlin held on for bronze in the 100 free, finishing behind Henry and defending champion Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands.

“A very good night for us,” Coughlin said. “We’re a team that gains momentum and it’s only going to get better the next two days.”

Beard won her race in an Olympic-record time of 2 minutes, 23.37 seconds — 0.23 seconds better than Australian Leisel Jones, who was under world-record pace for the first 150 meters. Jones took silver, while Anne Poleska of Germany earned bronze.

Phelps took his swimming to new heights with an Olympic record (1:57.14) in the 200 medley, giving the 19-year-old from Baltimore his third individual gold medal. Mark Spitz is the only other U.S. swimmer to win more than two individual races at a single games.

Spitz, of course, is the man Phelps was chasing when he took on a staggering eight events in Athens.

The quest to win seven gold medals — Spitz’s total from the 1972 Munich Games — will fall short. But Phelps, who also has two bronze medals, is still on course to match the Olympic record of eight medals set by Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin at Moscow Games in 1980, which the United States boycotted.

“I can’t get away from numbers,” quipped Phelps, who will go for his seventh medal today.

Just 30 minutes after winning the medley, he dove back in the pool and set an Olympic record in the 100 butterfly semifinals, setting up a showdown with teammate Ian Crocker in the final.

“Tonight was the toughest turnaround time I’ve ever had,” said Phelps, who between races warmed down for 10 minutes, received his gold medal, then went straight to the ready room to prepare for the fly.

Phelps also is expected to swim the 400 medley relay, an event the United States has never lost at the Olympics.

Peirsol became the fifth male swimmer — and fourth American — to sweep the backstrokes, following mentor Lenny Krayzelburg (2000), Rick Carey (1984), John Nabor (1976) and East Germany’s Roland Matthes (1968 and 1972).

The world record-holder led most of the race and easily beat Rogan in 1:54.95. Peirsol clutched a lane rope, held up his right index finger and hugged his friend.

But there was a delay in putting up the official results. After several minutes, the scoreboard flashed “DSQ” beside Peirsol’s name. The crowd gasped and then began to boo. Still standing on deck, the 21-year-old Californian shrugged his shoulders in disbelief.

Coincidentally, Peirsol stirred controversy earlier in the meet when he accused Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima of doing an illegal dolphin kick while winning the 100 breaststroke. Swimming officials found nothing wrong with Kitajima’s technique.

Beard overcame Jones to win a duel between the two fastest female breaststrokers in history.

The teddy bear-toting, 14-year-old sweetheart of the Atlanta Games has grown into quite a swimmer; Beard earned the sixth medal of her career. This one was especially sweet — the first gold that was entirely on her shoulders.

“I don’t think the smile will come off my face for a while,” the three-time Olympian said.

Jones went out in world-record pace, but Beard caught her in the final 50 for an Olympic record of 2:23.37 — 0.23 seconds ahead.

Henry finally ended the American winning streak in the last final of the night. She finished strong and touched first in 53.84, just one day after setting a world record of 53.52 in the semis.

The 30-year-old de Bruijn took silver this time in 54.16. Coughlin got the bronze at 54.40, failing to end her country’s drought at the top of the 100 free. The last American gold in that event came at the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Still, Coughlin’s first Olympics has been a medal bonanza: two golds, a silver and a bronze, with a chance for No.5 in the 400 medley relay.

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