Sunday, October 1|
U.S. swimmers rule, divers struggle in Sydney
SYDNEY, Australia -- For one week, the Americans ruled the
Olympic pool. For the second week, the balance of power shifted.
No one can touch the Chinese divers, who overwhelmed the United
States and everyone else with power, elegance, consistency and
Barely making a splash -- which is good for this sport -- the Big
Red Machine became the first country to win five diving medals at a
Rubbing it in, the Chinese also captured five silvers.
The U.S. team settled for one measly medal -- a surprise gold by
Laura Wilkinson on the women's 10-meter platform. Excluding the
1980 boycott, the Americans carried home their lightest load since
"Diving is so deep around the world now," U.S. coach Jay Lerew
said. "Every year, it gets deeper and deeper."
Ditto for swimming, but the Americans managed to maintain their
dominance in the signature sport of the Sydney Games.
The U.S. team will certainly will be remembered as one of the
greatest in history, burying the challengers from Australia under a
pile of gold, silver and bronze.
"When faced with a worthy opponent, you're forced to get your
act together," said Gary Hall Jr., who won two golds, plus silver
and bronze. "We were able to reach a level that we might not
otherwise have reached."
The U.S. team won 33 medals -- including 14 golds -- to surpass
the 13-gold, 26-medal haul from Atlanta.
In fact, it was the most golds in a non-boycotted Olympics since
1972 and equaled the most overall medals since countries were
limited to only two entrants per event in 1984.
Aided by high-tech bodysuits, the swimmers tore apart the record
book. In all, 15 world marks were set or tied during the eight-day
And, despite plenty of rumors and innuendo, there were no
positive doping tests at the pool, which avoided the scourge
plaguing other Olympic venues.
No wonder the Sydney International Aquatic Center was considered
THE place to be during the first week of the games.
Among those who became household names in America: Lenny
Krayzelburg, the Ukrainian emigrant who backstroked to three golds;
Brooke Bennett, the new queen of American distance swimming, taking
home two more golds; Jenny Thompson, finishing her career with a
record eight gold medals; and 33-year-old Dara Torres, winning five
medals after a seven-year layoff.
The Aussies settled for 18 medals, five golds and the biggest
star in Sydney, Ian Thorpe. The surprising Dutch also made a huge
impact with Inge de Bruijn and Pieter van den Hoogenband.
But, like the Chinese in diving, the U.S. swimmers had too much
depth for the rest of the world.
"The Americans have an ability to pick up the minor placings,"
Aussie distance star Keiren Perkins said. "We tend to focus on the
gold, but when those blokes don't win they pick up second or
Many people had predicted an American flop. Even Mark Spitz,
winner of seven gold medals in 1972, worried that the U.S. women
wouldn't win any; they wound up with seven.
"We have a lot of history, a lot of heart," Thompson said.
"That's a spirit Mark should have known about. He's been a part of
The Americans used to have that same feeling in diving. From
1920-76, they hoarded 40 gold medals out of a possible 54.
But the world has caught up. Since 1984, the U.S. team has
managed only six golds out of 24 events -- four of them by Greg
Louganis, whose brilliance masked the American decline.
Now, there are the familiar complaints about a lack of support.
Mark Ruiz, touted as the next Louganis but no better than sixth
in Sydney, has to pay for coaching out of his own pocket. David
Pichler, who finished ninth in the platform Saturday, holds down a
30-hour-a-week job so he can afford to compete.
"The Chinese spend all their time in the pool," Pichler
grumbled. "We're having to work to make ends meet."
Some coaches rued the lack of direction in the national program.
Lerew said the Americans were simply a victims of their own
success, spreading the sport to the rest of the world -- then
watching it come back to beat them.
There seemed no clear consensus on how to turn things around.
"We got two people in just about every final. That's good,"
Lerew said. "But we didn't do as good as I wanted. We've got some
room to improve."
Americans with gelled hair and noseclips could relate.
Russia swept both events in synchronized swimming, while the
U.S. team didn't win a medal at all -- the first time that's
happened since "Water Capades" became an Olympic sport in 1984.
"The U.S. had been on top for so long," said Anna Kozlova, a
Russian-born swimmer who now competes for America. "I think
everyone is very happy to push it down."