By Andrew Bushe and Martin Breheny
DUBLIN — Olympic swimming heroine Michelle Smith de Bruin has failed to overturn a four-year ban for tampering with a urine sample, her career effectively brought to an end after her appeal was dismissed by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The court’s decision on Monday was described as a bad day for Ireland by Sports Minister Dr. Jim McDaid, who said the evidence against her was overwhelming.
The 29-year-old triple Olympic gold medal winner was banned by the sport’s governing body, FINA, last year for tampering with the sample during routine a drug test. The decision precludes de Bruin’s participation in the Sydney Games and the 2003 World championships in Japan.
"I didn’t like what I was reading, and as such it [the decision] wasn’t really a surprise to me. It’s a sad day for Irish sport, it’s a sad day for our country, it’s a sad day for any country when one of our heroes or heroines falls," the minister said.
"Unfortunately, however, we cannot condone anyone who has been found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs in sport, particularly someone who was held up as Michelle was."
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However, de Bruin, again maintained her innocence in a statement issued through her solicitor. De Bruin said she was deeply saddened by the CAS decision to throw out her appeal.
"My victories in Atlanta and Seville were not hollow. They were achieved without the use of any illegal performance enhancing substance," she said.
"I have not committed the offense with which I was charged or any other offense and no one has proven on a direct factual basis how the whiskey entered the sample which was tested by the laboratory in Barcelona."
De Bruin also expressed her disappointment at the manner in which the CAS decision was announced. She heard it on the car radio and received no official communication from either FINA or CAS, she said.
De Bruin still has the option of taking a civil action against FINA but is most unlikely to do so because of the enormous costs involved.
In a statement, CAS said they did not accept de Bruin’s argument that it was up to FINA to eliminate all possibilities other than the swimmer herself had tampered with the sample.
The statement concluded: "Based on the facts of the case and the evidence before them, the arbitrators were of the opinion that FINA had convinced them that the Appellant [de Bruin] was the only person who had the motive and opportunity to manipulate the sample."
The swimmer was feted as a national hero when she won three gold and one bronze medal at the Atlanta games. They were Ireland’s first swimming medals and she was met on her return by then President Mary Robinson At the time, de Bruin — who was snubbed by swimming rivals — strongly refuted rumors of drug taking.