Removing The Tarnish Labeled an Olympic drug cheat, Rick DeMont may soon see his name cleared

February 05, 2001

Angela Demont's third-grade classmate knew how to get under her
skin. "Wasn't your dad a drug cheat?" she asked. Angela, now 15,
came home crying that day. Had her father, Rick, merely won gold
medals and broken world swimming records, he could have floated
peacefully into the firmament of Olympians who flicker and dim
with each passing quadrennium. Instead, DeMont's name stands
alone in an infamous place it doesn't belong. When the
International Olympic Committee struck replacement medals for Jim
Thorpe's family in 1983, DeMont was left as the only U.S.
Olympian to have been permanently disqualified after winning a
gold.

A successful painter, and assistant swim coach at Arizona, DeMont
has tried to forget the hours that followed his victory, at age
16, in the 400-meter freestyle at the 1972 Munich Games, but the
ignominy has followed him. During the 2000 Olympics the Sydney
Daily Telegraph put him No. 2, behind Canadian sprinter Ben
Johnson, on its list of the Olympics' "Top Ten Drug Cheats."

It has taken nearly three decades for someone in an official
position to say that DeMont's positive test wasn't his fault.
This week the USOC is expected to announce that at its board
meeting in April it will recognize the legitimacy of DeMont's
achievements. As DeMont's medal sits in a vault near the IOC's
headquarters in Lausanne, the IOC could revisit his case as early
as Feb. 5, when its executive board meets in Dakar. "It's pretty
clear we don't think Rick was a deliberate cheater," says IOC
member Richard Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency
and a strong candidate to become the next IOC president.
"Certainly the IOC would consider what it might be able to
provide Rick DeMont to make sure his reputation is restored. If
extenuating circumstances are acknowledged, I would be prepared
to bring the matter forward for that purpose in Dakar."

DeMont suffered his first asthma attack at age four and took
weekly allergy shots even into college. He began swimming at age
seven as a sort of hydrotherapy. While competing at the 1971
AAUs, DeMont had trouble breathing. He visited the official
physician, who prescribed Marax, an antiasthma medication that
contained ephedrine, a stimulant on the banned list the IOC had
compiled for the first time in the wake of the 1968 Mexico City
Games. DeMont finished poorly in that meet but later qualified
for the '72 U.S. Olympic team in the 400-meter freestyle and the
1,500 free, in which he held the world record. Before the Games,
DeMont listed Marax among his medications on a team medical form.

The night before the Olympic 400 final, DeMont awoke at 1 a.m.,
wheezing and coughing. He took a Marax tablet and fell back to
sleep soon after. The next morning he went to the U.S. medical
facility in the Olympic Village but was told that all medical
personnel had left for the track stadium. He took another Marax
tablet. A poor starter, DeMont rallied from last place at 150
meters and edged Australia's Brad Cooper by .01 of a second to
win in 4:00.26. That night DeMont went to sleep wearing the gold
medal around his neck.

The next day the USOC was notified by the IOC medical commission
that DeMont's postrace urine test had come up positive for
ephedrine. A U.S. team doctor, Winston Riehl, called DeMont's
pharmacy in Mill Valley, Calif., to ask about DeMont's prescribed
dosage and what was in Marax. The following day a U.S. team
manager came to DeMont's room in the Village and confiscated the
Marax, which was in plain view on the bedside table. On the
morning of the next day--the 1,500 final would be that night--a
hastily called IOC medical commission grilled DeMont about his
medical history. The commission offered to disqualify him from
the 400 but allow him to swim in the 1,500 if U.S. doctors would
take responsibility for the oversight. They did not because,
according to Riehl, "It was the position of the USOC medical
staff to be noncommittal while trying to make an appeal for
keeping Rick's gold medal." DeMont went home.

In 1973 DeMont won the world title in the 400, beating Cooper and
becoming the first swimmer to break the four-minute barrier, but
he never swam at another Olympics. He has gone on to coach 17
NCAA and U.S. national champions, including Chrissy Perham, who
gave DeMont the gold medal she won at the '92 Barcelona Olympics
in the 4x100-meter relay, telling him, "Hold on to this until you
get yours."

The DeMont case prodded U.S. team doctors to be more aware of the
presence of banned substances in athletes' medications. Before
the next Olympics the U.S. swim team randomly tested 51 U.S.
athletes and warned 16 of them that they were unknowingly taking
banned medications. Had DeMont been disqualified today, he could
have appealed to the IOC-recognized Court of Arbitration for
Sport, which in 1996 overturned a two-year ban on asthmatic
Finnish swimmer Petteri Lehtinen, who had failed to list the
stimulant he was taking on his medical form. Shooter George
Quigley of the U.S. tested positive for ephedrine at the '94
world championships in Cairo but got to keep his gold medal after
noting that the Egyptian doctor who prescribed it gave Quigley
instructions in Arabic. When Scott Volkers, then the coach of
Australian Olympic swimmer Samantha Riley, explained that he had
mistakenly given Riley a headache tablet that caused her to test
positive at the World Short Course Championships in '95, the
sport's international governing body suspended Volkers for two
years (the suspension was reduced to one year and then expunged)
but let Riley off with a warning. After testing positive for
ephedrine at the Sydney Games, Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan
was stripped of her gold medal in the all-around competition but
allowed to keep her team and apparatus medals because she had
tested negative after winning them.

DeMont insists he would prefer a repaired reputation to a
returned medal, which he would accept only if Cooper were allowed
to keep his. The public came to view Thorpe's slight as an
absurdity long before the IOC struck replacement medals. DeMont
deserves to have his daughter arrive home from school with a tale
that someone approached her to ask, "Hey, Angela, wasn't your dad
a great Olympic champion?"

COLOR PHOTO: LYNN JOHNSON

It has taken three decades for someone official to say that
DeMont's positive test wasn't his fault.

DeMont insists he would prefer a repaired reputation to a
returned gold medal.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)