Smith is denied fourth gold

SWIMMING
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The Independent Online
Michelle Smith has made such a profound impact on the centennial Games it is likely that Ireland will have to wait another 100 years to see her like again. She enhanced the legend that has grown around her in a week last night by taking her fourth medal in Atlanta. However, whereas the other three were gold this was a bronze.

As a result, she missed out on moving alongside Kristin Otto as the most prolifically successful woman swimmer in a single Games. But whatever, as far as the Emerald Isle is concerned Smith was already one of the all- time greats.

The East German got her golden quartet in 1988, and has since admitted the debt she owed to drugs, but such is the plausibility and seeming sincerity of Smith's insistence that she has not taken performance- enhancing stimulants that only a few Americans question her now. The smile of the red-haired, freckly girl from just outside Dublin has become the image of the first week of the Games.

Last night's medal came in the 200 metres butterfly, which she describes as her best event. It is difficult to tell these days, such was her dominance of the medley and 400 metres freestyle events. Last night, ironically, she was pushed more closely than ever before this week.

Smith was late to the starting line, arriving a good 30 seconds after the other competitors and she was slow when she got into the water, trailing the Australian Susan O'Neill at the halfway mark.

In her past races the surge has come over the final 50 metres, but maybe tiredness had got hold of Smith and when she asked for the acceleration it would not come. She finished third in 2min 09.91sec, two seconds behind the winner, O'Neill, while a second Australian, Petria Thomas, got the silver.

Earlier in the day Smith's parents had both come to the defence of their daughter after Janet Evans, the American quadruple gold medallist, had said questions were being asked as to whether Smith was taking performance- enhancing drugs.

"The behaviour has been less than good, it has been despicable," Brian Smith said on Radio 5 Live. "That of Janet Evans in particular. I would like to say that does not apply to the American people or to the other American swimmers who have expressed their regret and anger at Evans and their swimming association for saying things."

Smith's mother, Patricia, added: "Any mother knows her own children and I know without doubt that Michelle didn't have to turn to drugs or anything like that."

Britain had another bad day. Adam Ruckwood and Martin Harris failed to reach the final of the 200m backstroke and Sue Rolph missed out in the 50m freestyle, coming sixth in her heat in 26.39.

The team's frustration was compounded by the disqualification of the 4x100m medley relay squad after they had appeared to break the British record with a time of 3min 40.74sec. They were disqualified for making a premature changeover.

Neil Willey, who had led the quartet off with a blistering backstroke leg of 55.99sec, said: "It's very frustrating. We thought we'd broken the record and we fancied our chances for a medal."

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