Ireland's Michelle Smith made big waves Monday by winning her second gold medal of the 1996 Olympics and washing four-time gold medalist Janet Evans onto the shore.
Evans, bidding to equal speed-skater Bonnie Blair's record of five Olympic gold medals by an American woman, finished ninth in the preliminaries of the 400-meter freestyle earlier in the day and missed qualifying for the final by one spot. Smith went on to win the gold in 4 minutes, 7.25 seconds. But her inclusion in the race created an uproar in the swimming world.
Smith, the object of suspicious whispers about her drastically improved times, missed by three days the July 5 deadline for reporting the Olympic qualifying time in the 400 meters. She said the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games provided incorrect deadline information.
U.S. coaches fumed that the International Olympic Committee overruled FINA, the sport's governing body, which set the deadline. That decision was upheld in the early hours Monday morning by the Court of Arbitration for Sports.
"Being someone who always plays by the rules, I can make an analogy _ that in life you're supposed to play by the rules, but life's not fair," said Evans, who burst into tears after her qualifier at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center. "You can say it's unfair because she didn't play by the rules or you can say it's fair because the best swimmers are in there."
Smith swam her Olympic qualifying time of 4:08.64 in a time trial in Fort Lauderdale. The time was faster than any swimmer had achieved in competition this year. Her best previous time was 4:26.18.
Her dramatic improvement began about three years ago when she began training under Dutch discus thrower Erik de Bruin, who is under a four-year suspension for steroid use. They since have married. There has been speculation that she may have used performance-enhancing drugs.
"You can't stop people making allegations," Smith said. "I am happy with my medal and that is what is important.
"In the Olympic Games, you are supposed to have a spirit of fair play, and I don't think it is playing fair if you are trying to disqualify a competitor. If you are a good competitor, you take on all comers on the day."
Evans wasn't convinced.
"For her to say that we're wrong in protesting something that was wrong to begin with, I completely disagree with that," Evans said. "I'm sure that if it was her who played fairly and somebody else got in by breaking the rules, she would feel the same way."