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Thursday, August 19, 2004
Peirsol never gave up

By Carrie Sheinberg
Special to

ATHENS, Greece -- Aaron Peirsol never had a doubt.

Tough calls
ATHENS, Greece -- No two swimmers were more scrutinized for their decisions coming into these games than Natalie Coughlin and Michael Phelps. One for choosing to do too little, and one for taking on too much.

Even at the urging of her coach to do more, Coughlin stuck by her decision. Even after she swam a split so fast in the 4x200 relay, she could have won gold in the individual event, she stuck by her decision. Even after taking bronze Thursday night in the 100 free when she could have had a better shot in the 200 backstroke, she stuck by her decision.

Her male counterpart, Michael Phelps, busy taking home a fourth gold medal Thursday night in the 200 individual medley, insists that he would not change his tactics either. No, he won't break Mark Spitz' record. And yes, some actually have the gall to see his six-medal and counting performance as a let-down. But he would not trade his experience racing the great Ian Thorpe in the 200 meter free, and sooner than he would regret being on the winning 4x200 relay team.

We can debate their decisions endlessly, the important part is, they haven't. That's what makes those choices the right ones.

"People had talked about my decision in my events and I stick to it," Coughlin said after her bronze medal performance Thursday night. "I really enjoyed this race. I loved being out there and I think it was a great experience for me."
-- Carrie Sheinberg

He stood on the pool deck and saw his Olympic dreams shattered as the letters next to his name changed from OR (Olympic Record) to DSQ (Disqualified). The crowd booed like crazy, his mother burst into tears in the stands, but Peirsol never wavered. He trusted what only he could know. He had done nothing wrong.

After a lightning fast swim in the 200-meter backstroke, an event in which Peirsol already holds the world record, the 21-year-old from Irvine, Calif., emerged from the pool victorious. He had taken the race over his chief competitor and good friend from Austria, Markus Rogan. Razvan Florea of Romania finished third. No sooner had the Peirsol and Rogan congratulated each other, than the announcement came over the loudspeaker: Peirsol disqualified. Suddenly Rogan wins gold, Florea silver and James Goddard of Great Britain gets bronze.

At first bewildered, then egged on by the jeers from the crowd, Peirsol gestured for them to boo louder. Rogan, showing support for his friend, joined in.

They walked off the pool deck still confused over why this disqualification was called.

"We just kept looking for 'just kidding' to pop up on the board," coach Eddie Reese said.

"It's really hard to do something wrong in the backstroke," Peirsol wasn't even considering the possibility. "The first thing I thought of was I was happy. No matter what happened, I knew I won," he said.

The official claimed Peirsol had flipped over onto his stomach in order to make the turn at the 100-meter mark, but instead of gliding to the wall with his limbs still, he continued with his flutter kick. An illegal move.

Could this possibly be payback for Peirsol's harsh comments earlier in the week aimed at Kosuke Kitajima of Japan claiming he had cheated Brenden Hansen out of gold with an illegal kick of his own?

The media salivated over the possibility of such a story, but Peirsol wasn't buying it.

"Mistakes like this happen," he said. "I really don't think it's anything personal."

Mercifully, the rumor mill was cut short. Before the United States even had time to fill out a protest form, the decision was overturned by the International Swimming Federation committee. Peirsol gold. Again.

He knew it, he trusted it, and he prevailed.