The sound of silence
JENNY THOMPSON came from behind as the swimming anchor to bring the United States gold on Sunday in the women's 400-metre freestyle relay at the World Championships in Barcelona.
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Standing on the podium to receive their medals, Thompson and her three teammates were forced to improvise and sing the US national anthem themselves
That was expected from the 30-year-old American, who now has 10 medals in the world championships to tie her for the most by a woman -- a nice side dish to go with eight Olympic gold medals.
The unexpected, though, came when Thompson and her three teammates stood atop the podium to receive their medals and hear the US anthem being played. But the only sound was silence as they fidgeted for several minutes, smiled to friends in the stands, and looked slightly embarrassed.
They said they heard only a faint clicking sound, like a CD skipping, but no anthem. So as the American flag was finally raised, the four sang the anthem themselves.
Some were quick to suggest an anti-American conspiracy. But organisers assured it wasn't, apologised and even offered to redo the ceremony on Monday.
The same thing happened two years ago at the worlds in Fukuoka, Japan, when the Spanish anthem failed to be played after a gold in water polo.
"I've always wanted to be a rock star, so starting out with the anthem is a good way," Thompson joked. "I have to believe it was an honest mistake and they formally apologised to us. It's not a big deal. We have no hard feelings."
The Americans' winning time was 3 minutes 38.09 seconds. Germany won the silver (3:38.73) with bronze for Australia (3:38.83).
Thompson also swam the top time in the 100 butterfly semi-finals (57.99).
Thompson has completed two years at Columbia University medical school and has cut her training back. Eighteen months ago she was barely swimming at all, working out in a tiny 15-yard pool at the university. Less seems to be better for a woman many consider the greatest relay swimmer in history.
In her anchor, she was third with about 25 metres to go and then seemed to explode.
"There is some power that comes over me when I'm doing relays," she said. "I don't know what it is but I get very excited. I can't let my team down. There is no option but to win. I came off the 50 turn and I felt this adrenaline rush."
Natalie Coughlin, 20, is billed as the best American woman in a generation and is expected to swim seven events by the time the worlds end on Sunday. She already holds the world record in the 100 backstroke (59.58). Three other medal events in the pool highlighted the first of eight days of swimming.
Australia's Ian Thorpe remained unbeatable in the 400-metre freestyle, finishing in 3:42.58 with silver for countryman Grant Hackett (3:45.17) and bronze for Dragos Coman of Romania (3:46.87). He hasn't lost in that race in six years.
Thorpe, 20, was ill four months ago with a virus and has changed coaches. Some have suggested the three-time Olympic champion peaked a year ago when he set his 400 world record of 3:40.08. "I don't feel like I've reached my absolute peak in that event or any event," said Thorpe.
Thorpe's victory made him the first swimmer to win three straight world titles in the same event. His ninth gold medal also made him the first man to win that many in the worlds.
Gold medal winner Russia once more proved dominant in synchronised swimming. The final programme was again near perfection, as attested by the judges' marks. Four 10s were given in artistic impression, a presentation that perhaps was not so spectacular or original but unique in synchronisation and precision.
The next goal is the Olympic Games in 2004. "In Athens, everyone will want to win, but with our experience I believe we come in as favourites," said synchro member Anastasia Ermakova, who left Barcelona with two gold medals and one silver.
The Japanese, led by Miya Tachibana, winner of two medals, presented a programme worthy of second place. Marks of 9.8 and 9.9 attested to the consistency of the exhibition and allowed the Japanese to secure the silver medal.
Though Canada and Spain were more innovative, inevitable mistakes -- the result of taking too many risks -- allowed the steadier Americans to take home the bronze.