Sink or Swim
Competition will be fierce when America's best dive into the
Few Olympians will merit their tickets to Sydney more than those
who survive the eight-day U.S. swimming trials, which began on
Wednesday in Indianapolis. With Olympic medal threats entered in
almost every event and only two berths available per event, these
trials are more selective than even their track and field
cousins. We took out our chlorinated crystal ball to answer
several questions about who will sink in Indy and who will swim
again in Sydney.
Is Dara Torres going to make a fourth Olympic team after a
Bet on it. Torres, a 33-year-old fashion model and Tae Bo
infomercial queen, is swimming better than ever. In June she
became the oldest swimmer to break a U.S. record, with her 24.73
in the 50-meter freestyle. When Jenny Thompson enthusiastically
welcomed Torres back to Stanford last summer to train with and
push her, she never dreamed Torres would start smoking her in
practice. If--make that when--she makes it to the Games, Torres
will become the first American swimmer to compete in four
How will 1996 U.S. gold medalists fare?
Thompson is a full second faster than anyone else in the 100
butterfly field. Brooke Bennett, Tom Dolan and Amy Van Dyken also
figure to make the team. Bennett should qualify in the 800 free
and probably double in the 400 free. Super all-arounder Dolan has
to figure out which events to swim but should make the team in
the 400 free and 400 individual medley. Van Dyken has changed
coaches and undergone two shoulder operations since '96 that have
caused her to give up the 100 butterfly, an event she won in
Atlanta, but she's a good bet for at least a freestyle relay
spot. Gary Hall Jr. and Amanda Beard are iffy. Hall swam a
blistering 22.13 in the 50 free at the 1999 summer nationals but
is up against diabetes, which was diagnosed in March 1999.
Breaststroker Beard, who won three medals in Atlanta at age 14,
has replaced her teddy bear with a tongue stud and inconsistent
Are there any likely first-time U.S. Olympians we'll be hearing
about in Sydney?
Plenty. Lenny Krayzelburg could win gold in both backstroke
events; converted golfer Ed Moses and high school junior Megan
Quann are the best of the U.S. breaststrokers; Neil Walker, who
missed a spot on the 1996 4x100 free relay by .13, is now
America's best 50 and 100 freestyler, the U.S.-record holder in
the 100 fly and the world's second-ranked 100 backstroker.
Will the team include an African-American for the first time?
Yes, but the question is which one...or ones? Cal sophomore
Anthony Ervin set a short-course world record of 21.21 to win the
50 free at the 2000 NCAAs. Baywatch actor Sabir Muhammad has the
American short-course record in the 100 fly, but his best chance
to make the team is in the 4x100 free. Byron Davis missed a 100
fly berth by .33 in 1996; if he qualifies, he would accompany his
wife, Annette, a beach volleyball medal hopeful, to Sydney.
Breaststroker Michael Norment has already made history once: In
'97 he became the first black swimmer to make a U.S. national
What's with those bodysuits?
There's a new cover-up in swimming that has nothing to do with
Michelle Smith. Many of the trials competitors will be wearing
newly designed neck-to-ankle suits, which bead water, reduce
friction and may cut times. In June, U.S. Swimming, claiming that
not enough of the new suits would be available by August, banned
them from the trials, but after protests from swimmers and a
promise of availability by manufacturers the ban was lifted. Look
for the suits to make a splash in Indy. Over four weeks in May
and June, Ian Thorpe and Susie O'Neill of Australia, Inge de
Bruijn of the Netherlands and Tom Malchow of the U.S. have set
world records in them.
Tiny Step in the Right Direction
Last week, when the IOC announced conditional approval of EPO
testing for the Sydney Games, "a lot of runners were
celebrating," says Mark Wetmore, who coaches cross-country and
track and field at Colorado and trains U.S. Olympians Alan
Culpepper (10,000 meters) and Adam Goucher (5,000 meters). The
implication was that the IOC had armed itself with a silver
bullet to eradicate drug cheats and level the playing field.
Wetmore's reaction was more measured. "It's important to think of
this as a sincere step in the right direction," he said, "but I'm
afraid the people who are getting excited haven't examined the
EPO (erythropoietin) has been the wonder drug of the past decade
for endurance athletes. Natural EPO is produced by the kidneys
and liver and stimulates the creation of red blood cells.
Synthetic EPO was developed to aid patients with anemia but can
also dramatically increase oxygen-carrying capacity in athletes.
"You've got to believe that EPO is a large reason that 5,000- and
10,000-meter times have come down so far in the last few years,"
says former U.S. marathoner Alberto Salazar.
Elimination of EPO from sports would be a boon, but the testing
to be done in Sydney is only a tiny move, and it invites
--The testing will include blood and urine samples. Both must be
positive for the athlete to be considered a violator of the drug
rules. Experts say that the blood test reveals evidence of EPO
use dating back several weeks, the urine test about three days.
This means that an athlete could use EPO four days before testing
and be officially clean.
--Because the blood test screens not for the presence of EPO
itself but for hormonal changes associated with the use of EPO,
any positive result will be vulnerable to legal challenge.
--The IOC has a history of promising drug vigilance on the eve of
Olympic Games and then failing to deliver. As recently as 1996,
high-resolution mass spectrometry was supposed to be the ultimate
weapon against drug users, but it proved limited in
--Even if the Sydney testing--the final approval of which will
be voted on by the IOC executive board on Aug. 28-29--ferrets
out EPO cheaters who are foolish enough to use the drug close to
competition, many popular performance enhancers can't be
detected. Chief among them is human growth hormone (HGH) and its
cousin, insulinlike growth factor (IGF1). Both are beneficial
not only to endurance athletes but also to those seeking
explosive speed and strength.
Penn State epidemiologist Charles Yesalis, an authority on
performance enhancers, dismisses the new EPO test as nothing but
public relations. "Too much money is involved in the Olympics to
eliminate drugs," says Yesalis. "Plus, if I've learned one thing
in 20 years of studying this, it's that the cheaters will always
be ahead of the testers."
U.S. softball righthander Lisa Fernandez threw her 30th
consecutive perfect inning to wrap up her fourth straight perfect
game in Team USA's 11-0 victory against the Texas All-Stars on
Citing "exceptional circumstances," including a career without
prior doping offenses as well as "the fact this is his last
Olympics," the IAAF commuted the two-year ban of Cuban high
jumper Javier Sotomayor, 32, to time served, making him eligible
for Sydney. Sotomayor, the only man to clear eight feet, tested
positive for cocaine at the Pan-Am Games last summer. His
reinstatement was greeted with cynicism, even by IAAF vice
president Arne Ljungqvist, who threatened to resign. "I know
that he tested positive a few times," Ljungqvist told a Swedish
news agency. (Sotomayor insists he never took drugs.) "I think
that he should be suspended."...
Russian cyclist Zulfia Zabirova, the 1996 Olympic women's time
trial champ, won her country's national time trial on July 30,
three weeks after a fall during a road race left her
hospitalized in serious condition with a head injury....
Chinese sports officials have told Yueling Chen to take a
walk--but not in the Olympics. Chen, who won the 10-km walk for
her native land at the 1992 Games, placed second in the 20-km
walk at the U.S. trials last month. Because Chen, an American
citizen since April, has been in the U.S. for less than three
years, the USOC had to petition the Chinese Olympic Committee
for permission for her to compete under her new flag. China
refused to grant the clearance....
Number of men among candidates for 14 IOC membership slots to be
filled in September: 48; number of women: 0....
After a $351 million overhaul, the Sydney Airport has had to
shut down twice in the last month because of power failures.