Van Almsick, already a millionaire at the age of 16, set only the ninth fastest time in the morning heats - good enough only for the consolation final. But after swift 'negotiations' inside the German team, Dagmar Hase, who clocked the eighth quickest time, scratched from the final, allowing Van Almsick to be promoted to the vacant lane eight.
The German took full advantage of her controversial reprieve, just beating China's Lu Bin to the touch in 1min 56.78sec. Both girls swam inside Heike Friedrich's 1986 world record of 1:57.55, while the bronze medal-winner, Claudia Poll, of Costa Rica, was just outside.
Van Almsick's backdoor route to the final did not defy any swimming regulations, but was felt by many to be morally wrong. Dave Champion, the coach to Karen Pickering, whose heat time was just 0.01sec slower than Van Almsick's, said: 'It is not right.' Pickering finished second in the B final, with Alex Bennett seventh.
Van Almsick angrily denied rumours that Hase had been induced by money to withdraw from the final. 'I despise people who say this. Hase decided alone that she would let me compete,' she said.
Van Alswick admitted, however, that she had hesitated before deciding to swim the final. 'I could not be sure I could be really happy if I won a medal,' she said.
Another world record was broken when the American Tom Dolan clocked 4:12.30 in the 400m individual medley to eclipse the previous mark of 4:12.36 set by the Hungarian Tamas Darnyi in 1991.
The Commonwealth champion Samantha Riley won gold in the 200m breastroke, while Rafal Szukala, of Poland, won the men's 100m butterfly and Sweden took the men's 4 x 200m freestyle relay.
Results, Sporting Digest, page 39