By Mark Jones
DUBLIN – Whatever about the charge and counter-charge, the rumor and counter-rumor, one thing is certain: Michelle Smith de Bruin is fighting for both her sporting future and her reputation.
Last week’s devastating charges that the swimmer, who won three gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, tampered with a drug test, used a banned substance and took advantage of a banned procedure, have rocked Irish sport to its foundations.
While the world governing body for swimming, FINA, has declined to elaborate on the precise nature of the serious charges, de Bruin, who is not currently suspended, has said she expects to be banned.
With FINA’s charges emanating from a random out-of-competition dope test taken last January, de Bruin now has until May 18 to decide whether she wants to proceed with further analysis of the second half of the urine sample, which remains in a sealed container in a laboratory in Barcelona, Spain. All urine samples for the purposes of drug testing are divided into identical A and B conainers.
It has emerged, however, that the 28-year-old De Bruin’s urine sample suggested the presence of a metabolic precursor of testosterone. Precursors of testosterone are used by athletes to boost their testosterone levels and are Category One banned products.
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Also, de Bruin admitted that the testing laboratory said her sample had a very strong whiskey odor and contained alcohol levels that could kill a person, which, if true, suggests the sample was tampered with.
“I am innocent of these charges,” an angry de Bruin said at a press
conference in Dublin last week. “I’m not taking this lying down and I intend to fully defend myself all the way to the International Sports Court.”
She described in detail at the press conference how an Irish couple
authorized by FINA, Al and Kay Guy, took the sample in question at de Bruin’s Kilkenny home last Jan. 10. In accordance with procedure, the sample was divided in two and both de Bruin and Al Guy signed the doping form acknowledging the taking of a sample.
De Bruin also criticized FINA for not making the results of her test known before they were leaked to an English newspaper last week. Crucially, the Guys have refused to comment on the controversy, saying it was a matter for the swimmer and for FINA.
But there are a number of key questions that must be addressed now. First, how did alcohol appear in De Bruin’s sample? Second, could it have been possible for De Bruin, under the constant supervision of Kay Guy, to have tampered with the sample without detection? And third, could the laboratory in Barcelona have been responsible for tampering with the sample?
The swimmer’s father, Brian Smith, said he was convinced that the sample was either tampered with by a third party or the laboratory was lax in its procedures. He admitted his daughter’s reputation was bound to be damaged, regardless of the outcome.
This latest and most serious episode in de Bruin’s checkered career since she took the swimming world by storm in Atlanta two years ago is a culmination of allegations that her remarkable performances could not have been achieved by a once mediocre athlete in her middle 20s.
Until now, de Bruin has come through all dope tests unscathed. However, since her relationship and subsequent marriage to Dutchman Erik de Bruin, she has suffered by association. A world-class discus thrower, de Bruin tested positive for three banned substances in 1993 and a four-year ban effectively ended his track and field career.
This controversy is likely to end up at Court of Abitration for Sport in Lausanne, Swtizerland. And even if Michelle de Bruin eventually succeeds in clearing her name, it is likely that her days as a competitive swimmer are over.