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Friday, August 27, 2004
Crow heads to jail with bronze

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Tammy Crow's head was spinning.

She thought of the car wreck that killed two people, the jail sentence that's waiting back home, the critics who said she didn't deserve a place on the U.S. Olympic team.

Then she dove in the water. For the next four minutes, nothing else mattered.

Focused only on her teammates and fulfilling a lifelong dream, Crow helped the United States win a bronze medal in synchronized swimming Friday night.

"I was going through all of these emotions," Crow said. "I felt like I was running a maze in my head. I thought about almost everything.

"But as it came down, as it got closer, I felt like I had been able to think about all of those different things, and kind of got to clear my head, and focus on exactly what I needed to do out there in the pool with my team."

The Russians, overcoming a glitch in their music that forced them to start over, completed a sweep of the synchro golds with a team performance that received perfect 10s across the board in artistic impression.

The Japanese took silver and the Americans were third -- a repeat of the results from duet.

Crow's celebration won't last long. She is set to report to jail Oct. 25 to begin serving a three-month sentence.

The 27-year-old Californian pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter in a February 2003 wreck that killed her boyfriend, Cody Tatro, and 12-year-old Brett Slinger, a star Little Leaguer and aspiring Olympian himself.

The sentence was delayed so Crow could compete in the Olympics.

"It's been a roller coaster in the last year and a half," she said. "I've had the worst part of my life and now the best part of my life."

Crow was driving her boyfriend's SUV up a snowy mountain road in California when the car slid out of control and plowed sideways into trees. Tatro wasn't wearing a seat belt, while Slinger was crushed to death in the back seat. Crow broke her arm and back.

Tatro taught at Slinger's middle school, and they were going up to meet Slinger's parents for a day of snowboarding.

Crow has said the wreck was a tragic accident. Prosecutors and the victims' families saw it differently. Slinger's parents complained that they never got an apology from Crow and that she was more concerned with her Olympic dreams than their grief.

Crow said it's time to make that right, too.

"If that's what would help them," she said, "then that's what I need to do."

Crow had been drinking with teammates only hours before, and witnesses said she was speeding when she passed another car just before the crash. Police said the swimmer smelled of alcohol, though she wasn't charged with being intoxicated.

A year later, Crow entered a plea she thought would result in probation. Instead, the judge gave her 90 days in jail, but postponed the sentence until after the Olympics so Crow could continue training with teammates who relied on her to handle many of the leaps and flips in their intricate routines.

For Crow, swimming was "a way to keep living."

"But I've never escaped how I feel, and what I go through every day," she said. "I work with those feelings every day.

The U.S. Olympic Committee ruled Crow could compete in Athens. Her coaches and teammates backed her all the way.

"This girl didn't do anything that should have prevented her from being here," U.S. coach Chris Carver said. "I don't say that lightly."

In Sydney, the Americans failed to win a synchro medal for the first time since the sport was added to the Olympics in 1984. In Athens, they got a little closer to the Russians and Japanese, who have dominated the sport over the last four years.

The Russians overcame a technical malfunction: The music from "Carnival" suddenly stopped just 17 seconds into their routine. They swam slowly to the side of the pool and climbed out, the referee giving them another chance to swim.

After a delay of about five minutes, the problem was resolved and the Russians leaped back in the pool. Their lively routine earned one 10 for technical merit and a straight line of five perfect scores for artistic impression.

The Russians totaled 99.501 points, while Japan's performance to "Samurai in Athens" received 98.501. The Americans held on for third with 97.418.

Crow didn't swim in the technical routine on Thursday. The coaches listed her as a reserve because they weren't sure if legal problems might derail her trip to Athens.

But she was a key swimmer on the team, able to perform all sorts of twists and flips when she gets tossed in the air. With Crow added to the lineup for the free routine, the Americans performed a speedy, complex program set to the theme from "Lord of the Rings."

With a bronze medal around her neck, Crow appeared to be choking back tears as she joined her teammates in a symbolic gesture -- tossing their nose clips into the water -- to show they don't plan to be back in 2008.

Crow isn't sure what she'll do with the rest of her life. She's just focused on getting through her time in jail.

"It's already been in the back of my mind," she said. "There's a lot of things that lie ahead of me."