At the time of the 1996 Olympic Games, the whole of Ireland was getting excited about swimming. Ireland's Michelle Smith [wiki] was winning medals all over the place. Swimming was the thing to watch on the television. The government were promising an Olympic sized swimming pool in every small town in Ireland. People who never even took a bath, were suddenly turning up to swimming pools at five in the morning. Nothing could stop us. This was Ireland's sporting Celtic Tiger, and just like economic Celtic Tiger that came some years later, it was nothing but a bubble: a big bubble of drugs. Smith was pumped full of so many synthetic hormones she no longer knew what species she was.
In 1998 she failed a drugs test when some urine was found in her whiskey sample. The shame of it. The reality dawned on us that all those gold medals in '96 were probably won from Smith injecting herself with Miracle Grow. For a while I kept on believing , for I had evidence, you see![Riemann's Cut] Part of RTE's coverage of the '96 Games enlisted the help of Dr. Gary O'Toole, a past Irish swimmer turned doctor. He had predicted every one of her victories and even her final bronze medal, and he said nothing to concern us over her sudden rise to Olympic victory. It later turned out, and I was quite shocked by this, that Gary O'Toole was ordered by RTE, Ireland's state broadcaster, to shut his mouth and not mention his concerns:
"The directive came down that nobody was to discuss drugs and Michelle Smith on national television," he [O'Toole] said. [seattletimes.com]Remember that, the next time you pay your TV Licence fee. But I digress, this is not a post about state controlled television or even Michelle Smith. This is a post about another swimmer I spotted at the 1996 Olympic Games.
I still remember the night. At a friends house, we turned on the tv, to watch the swimming. The medal ceremony for the 200m Freestyle competition was taking place. The cameras trained in on the silver medalist. A striking woman. An inspirational image. It was on a par with a scene from Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympia". I didn't catch the name though and this being pre-internet days, it was a struggle to get any kind of information on anything. I think the Aertel teletext service came to the rescue actually, and I finally caught her name. A few days later, while flicking through the RTEGuide, I noticed an image with this newly discovered name, printed underneath. I cut it out and filed it away, and 16 years later I still have it, to display at the start of this post.
Franziska van Almsick [wiki], the [East] German swimmer who won ten medals at various Olympic games, between 1992 and 2004. While she was always tipped for the top spot, she never managed to win gold. At the Atlanta Olympic games in 1996, she won silver in the 4x200m Freestyle relay race, and as already mentioned, silver in the 200m Freestyle individual event.