The Pool Is Whirling With Undercurrents Amid The Interest In World Records Are Subplots Among Some Of The Women That Are Downright Fascinating.

Posted: September 18, 2000

SYDNEY — A swimmer skims along the top of the water. And, minus one of NBC's underwater cameras, all that roiling activity just beneath the surface never gets seen.

In a way, that's how it was in last night's women's 100-meter butterfly final. All the unseen business, the soapish subplots, was as interesting as the race itself.

For the record, in an Aquatic Center pool that is swimming's equivalent of Coors Field, the Netherlands' Inge de Bruijn took the gold medal with a - surprise - world-record time of 56.61 seconds. Slovakia's Martina Moravcova was second, American Dara Torres third. Jenny Thompson of the United States finished a disappointing fifth in a race heavy on experience and story lines.

Also, a night after the Australian men's stirring 400-meter relay victory shattered their confidence, the Americans bounced back with gold and silver in two events, giving them three of the eight golds awarded so far. Brooke Bennett won the 400-meter freestyle, and Diana Munz finished second. And Tom Dolan, ho-hum, established the Olympics' eighth world record in taking the 400 individual medley. Eric Vendt finished second.

And, oh yeah, Ian Thorpe qualified for the 200-meter final. Shockingly, though, the spectacular Aussie amphibian was not responsible for the world record set in that event's semifinals.

But everyone could see those things. The fascinating aspects of the 100-meter butterfly were what remained obscured. If any of it played a role in the outcome, no one was saying.

Consider that Australia's Susie O'Neill was the hometown favorite who had hinted in June that the extremely buff de Bruijn had bulked up with drugs.

De Bruijn, 27, had quit before the '96 Olympics, but now insists she has found renewed life. That's because of Tae-Bo, an exercise program Torres turned her on to. It was, de Bruijn said, the exercise regimen, and not drugs, that allowed her to set seven world records in a three-week stretch this summer.

Torres is a 33-year-old model who ended a seven-year retirement to compete this year, and she has heard the whispers herself. She is also an e-mail buddy of de Bruijn's.

Thompson, 27, does not get along with Torres. At one point this year, they even had to stop training at the same pool. "It was like the Olympic finals every day," U.S. women's coach Richard Quick said.

De Bruijn was really the only one to dive into the mire with both feet, saying she resented suspicions that, like 1996's swimming surprise, Ireland's Michelle Smith, drugs had pushed her into the limelight.

"I don't understand that," she said. "I've always been up there. I didn't come out of nowhere. . . . But if you're on top of the world, there is always someone that's going to want to chop your head off."

Torres, who cheerily took a call on her cell phone during her postrace news conference, was ecstatic with her finish.

"I got emotional up there when they put the bronze medal around my neck," she said. "Eight years ago, I don't think I would have been able to appreciate it that much."

An obviously distraught Thompson, who has six relay golds but no individual medals, did not want to talk with reporters, according to a U.S. swim team official.

"Jenny was very gracious afterward," Torres said. "She congratulated me. . . . Don't count her out. She has more races left."

Pieter van den Hoogenband recorded a world-record time of 1 minute, 45.35 seconds - beating Thorpe's four-month-old mark by .16 of a second - to win his semifinal in the men's 200-meter freestyle. That was two hundredths of a second better than the time for Thorpe, the 17-year-old who electrified this nation with his two gold medals on Saturday night.

"I'm pacing myself different in the semifinal format," Thorpe explained.

Van den Hoogenband might be the first swimmer ever to set a world record one night and lack confidence the next.

"Ian is so strong," he said. "His personal best is still one second ahead of mine. So I'm not really thinking about a gold. I want to take a medal and stand on the podium."

Dolan and Vendt, and Bennett and Munz, said the Australians' win the night before in the 400 relay, ending the Americans' run of gold in the event, had inspired them.

"We were watching at the Village, and I said to Eric, 'We've got to go 1-2 to turn this thing around,' " Dolan said.

Dolan snapped his own world record with a time of 4:11.76. Vendt, aiming for the 1,500 freestyle later in the week, came in at 4:14.23. Canada's Curtis Myden won the bronze.

"We said to each other, 'Let's go finish 1-2,' " said Bennett, who left Janet Evans' world record intact with a winning time of 4:05.80. " 'It doesn't matter how we do it, but let's do it.' "

Munz was timed in 4:07.07, while bronze medalist Claudia Poll of Costa Rica finished at 4:07.83.

Dolan said the spate of records was beginning to play with the swimmers' heads.

"It's getting to the point where you tell yourself you've got to break a world record just to win your race," he said.

No one can pinpoint a reason, except to note that it helps to have 17,500 swimming-crazed fans in the stands.

"A pool is a pool," Torres said. "But when you dive in here, it feels like you're on top of the water."

Frank Fitzpatrick's e-mail address is ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

|
|
|
|
|