His countrymen believed in Fred Deburghgraeve even after he had forsaken hope. On Saturday he repaid their faith with a hosannah-raising performance, earning Belgium's first Olympic swimming gold medal on the opening day of competition at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.
Deburghgraeve shaved half a second off the world record in the 100-meter breaststroke in the morning heats, finishing in 1 minute, .60 seconds, then came back to win at night in the final in 1:00.65. He is the third Belgian swimmer to hold a world record and the first since 1910.
The surprise silver medalist was Jeremy Linn of the United States, who lowered his winning time from the trials in March almost a full second to set an American record of 1:00.77. Mark Warnecke of Germany took the bronze in 1:01.33. Karoly Guttler of Hungary, who held the world record at the day's start, finished fourth.
Linn said a bad turn at the 50-meter mark was costly.
"My stroke count was a little off," he said. "I took a half-stroke into the turn. Coming into the last 10 meters, I was reeling him in every stroke. He just got me."
Kurt Grote of San Diego finished sixth.
Deburghgraeve's medal was Belgium's first swimming medal in 12 years and the first in a men's event since 1924. Asked if he was famous in his homeland, Deburghgraeve quipped, "I will be now, I think."
At the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Deburghgraeve, 23, slipped at the start of the 2-lap race and never recovered, finishing 34th in 1:05.10. Deeply disappointed, he quit swimming.
Deburghgraeve reconciled with the sport six months later, his way back to the pool paved by the Belgian swimming committee. Belgian officials offered him a stipend that allowed him to quit his restaurant job and train full time.
Deburghgraeve placed fourth in the event at the 1993 European Championships, took third at the 1994 World Championships and finished first at the 1995 European Championships in 1:01.12, then the second-fastest time in history behind Guttler's 1:00.95 in 1993.
"I knew I was able to break the world record," said Deburghgraeve, who started swimming at the age of 8 on the advice of his doctor who thought it would help his asthma. "I'm just glad I did it and proved to myself I can do it."
Deburghgraeve trains by himself in Roeselare, with his father overseeing workouts phoned in by his coach, Ronald Gaastra, who lives 80 miles away. Never mind his isolation, there's no secret to the swimmer's success.
"He gets more out of each arm pull than anybody I've ever seen," said U.S. Olympic men's assistant coach Eddie Reese. "Watching him warm up the last couple of days, you knew this was coming."
Breast stroke records
Time Name/nation Date
1:05.68 John Hencken/U.S. 8/29/72
1:05.13 Nobutaka Taguchi/Japan 29.8.72
1:04.94 Taguchi 8/30/72
1:04.35 Hencken 9/4/73
1:04.02 Hencken 9/9/73
1:03.88 Hencken 8/31/74
1:03.62 Hencken 7/19/76
1:03.11 Hencken 7/20/76
1:02.86 Gerald Morken/W. Ger. 17.8.77
1:02.62 Steve Lundquist/U.S. 7/19/82
1:02.53 Lundquist 8/21/82
1:02.34 Lundquist 8/6/83
1:02.28 Lundquist 8/17/83
1:02.13 John Moffett/U.S. 6/25/84
1:01.65 Lundquist 7/29/84
1:01.49 A. Moorhouse/Britain 15.8.89
1:01.49 Moorhouse 1/25.90
1:01.49 Moorhouse 7/26/90
1:01.49 Norbert Rozsa/Hungary 7.1.91
1:01.45 Rozsa 1/7/91
1:01.45 Vasily Ivanov/Moscow 6/11/91
1:01.29 Rozsa 8/20/91
1:00.95 Karoly Guttler/Hungary 3.8.93
1:00.60 F. Deburghgraeve/Bel. 7/20/96