Sharing The Gold Anthony Ervin And Gary Hall Jr. Each Finished The 50-meter Final In 21.98 Seconds As The U.s. Ruled The Pool Again.

Posted: September 23, 2000

SYDNEY — Gary Hall Jr. talked about illness. Anthony Ervin discussed race in America.

These were weighty subjects for two guys who hadn't done anything more than swim one lousy lap to an indecisive conclusion.

But that lap came in the Olympic 50-meter final last night at the Aquatic Centre. And the two American training partners finished it together - in 21.98 seconds - to share the gold medal and a spot atop the awards stand.

It was the second dead heat in as many nights involving American odd couples. On Thursday, rivals Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres tied for a bronze in the women's 100 freestyle.

Asked if he had ever finished in a dead heat before, Ervin said he had.

"One time at the junior nationals, I tied for 24th," he said.

The other three gold medalists on the next-to-last night of a swimming competition surprisingly dominated by the United States were American Brooke Bennett (800-meter freestyle), Romania's Diana Mocanu (200-meter backstroke) and Sweden's Lars Froelander (100-meter butterfly).

Hall and Ervin proved that someone could beat Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands.

The Dutch swimmer, champion in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle events, took the bronze in 22.03.

World record-holder Alexander Popov was sixth.

Hall, Ervin and Poland's Bart Kizierowski, who was fifth, trained together this year with coach Mike Bonham in Phoenix.

"The race was almost like another day of practice," Hall said. "We were racing the best in the world every day."

Ervin became the first U.S. swimmer of African American heritage to make an Olympic team, but the 19-year-old Cal-Berkeley student clearly was uncomfortable talking about his racial background yesterday.

"I'm proud of my heritage . . . but I don't think of it in terms of being the first this or the first that," he said. "I feel like in American society today, something in the nature of a diverse background is not a big deal."

Hall, 25, had won a pair of golds and two silvers at the Atlanta Games. But last year, he nearly quit when he was diagnosed with diabetes.

"The diabetes was really a major factor in my life, not just my swimming career," he said. "The travel here took something out of me. It affected my blood-sugar levels. But I paid attention to what I ate and made sure I got the right amount of insulin."

Hall had struck his sizable foot in his mouth by predicting that the U.S. men's 400-meter freestyle relay team would "smash the Australians like guitars."

When the Aussies won - one of only four golds they have taken in what has to be a disappointing homestand - celebrating team members strummed air guitars.

"I don't even play the guitar," Hall said when asked about his comment again last night. "I have nothing but respect for the Australian team."

Bennett added the 800 to her 400 gold with another wire-to-wire performance in an Olympic-record time of 8 minutes, 19.67 seconds. Yana Klochkova of Ukraine was second, American Kaitlin Sandeno third.

"I'm now two seconds off the world record in the 400 and three off in the 800," said Bennett, a placid, 20-year-old Floridian. "That's going to be my motivation in the future."

Froelander upset the two Australians who had been favored in the 100 butterfly, Michael Klim and Geoff Huegill.

"I don't think it was a fantastic swim," Klim said. "I think we both could have done better. . . . We should have grabbed that race, but we let it get away from us."

The Americans now have 29 swimming medals to Australia's 13. That's two more than the U.S. total in Atlanta.

And Americans could win two more gold medals today in the men's and women's 400-meter intermediate relays.

"I think we showed," Ervin said, "that we're the No. 1 team in the world."

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

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