She was the first American at the Centennial Olympics to take
home a medal, but she never jumped in the pool. She never even
qualified for the competition. All Trisha Henry did was drape a
bronze medal around her neck, stand proudly before the world and
embody all the best that the Summer Games have to offer.
Henry, a 20-year-old collegiate swimmer from nearby Marietta,
Ga., was working as a volunteer on the equipment crew last night
at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center and watched as her friend
Angel Martino, a captain of the U.S. women's team and a fellow
Georgian, finished third in the 100-meter freestyle. After the
awards ceremony Martino sought out Henry and dramatically
dragged her onto center stage. Then she gave Henry her medal and
told her that she was a hero and an inspiration. On Valentine's
Day, Henry was diagnosed with cancer of the ureter, for which
she is undergoing chemotherapy.
"Angel just said, 'I want to give this to you,'" said a tearful
Henry. "She said, 'I want you to know that I'm thinking of you.
I think you're a hero. Keep fighting.'"
Henry has known Martino, 29, for years and as a child attended a
local swim camp run by Martino's father, Kirt Myers. She swims
at Illinois but keeps in touch with and roots hard for Martino.
Henry, whose ureter and a kidney were removed as a result of the
cancer, was in the hospital for treatment for three days and
wasn't released until yesterday morning, but she vowed that
nothing would keep her away from the first day of Olympic
competition. "I got up and came to work," she said. "I've been a
swimmer since I was 7 1/2. A lot of people burn out on it, but I
Henry specializes in the same events as Martino, who won a
bronze in the 50-meter freestyle and was part of a gold medal
relay team at the '92 Olympics. Last night Martino was deprived
of the gold by Le Jingyi, who salvaged some respect for a
Chinese team that has fended off doping accusations since its
strong showing at the Barcelona Games. Nineteen Chinese swimmers
have tested positive for illegal substances since 1990, and all
eyes were on the women when the competition began. Le's three
teammates who swam in morning preliminaries were expected to
advance to the finals, but Le was the only one to qualify.
Ironically, Le has never been suspended for use of a banned
substance, while Martino cannot say the same. At the 1988
Olympic trials, Martino set American records in the 50- and
100-meter freestyles. But she lost both records and her spot on
the Olympic team when she tested positive for anabolic steroids.
All along Martino has claimed the substance was from a
birth-control pill, and she has understandably grown weary of
the subject. Last night, with one inspirational gesture, she
added an uplifting chapter to her illustrious career.
After briefly analyzing the race for the media, Martino casually
mentioned that she was no longer in possession of her medal. "I
gave it to a friend who is fighting for her life," said Martino.
"She is a great inspiration to me." According to Henry, Martino
gave no indication in advance of the race that she would make
such a gesture. Henry was on the deck, fulfilling her duties
with the equipment crew, when someone pulled her aside. She has
always dreamed of winning an Olympic medal. She never imagined
it would happen this way. "It totally took me by surprise," said
It was only the best of the surprises on the opening night of
the swimming competition. Three swimmers won their countries'
first-ever swimming gold medals. Ireland's Michelle Smith
prevailed in the 400 individual medley, while New Zealand's
Danyon Loader won the men's 200 freestyle. But it was Belgium's
Fred DeBurghgraeve who turned in perhaps the most impressive
performance, winning two races in the 100 breaststroke in the
fastest two times ever posted.
In the morning heat, DeBurghgraeve won in a world-record
1:00.60, breaking the three-year-old mark set by Karoly Guttler
of Hungary. And in his medal-winning victory, he was only .05 of
a second off that record time but still better than Guttler's
mark (1:00.95). Jeremy Linn of the U.S. won the silver.
The biggest upset of the night was Smith's triumph in the 400
IM, a race that was supposed to belong to defending Olympic
champion Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary. The silver went to
Allison Wagner of the U.S. on the eve of her 19th birthday.
While Smith admitted it was nice to win her country's first
swimming medal, she said it was even more exciting to look up
after the race and see her parents, Pat and Brian, among the
crowd of almost 15,000.
"It's a lot of pressure when you see them sitting there and
remember how much they put into it," she said. "All the mornings
of getting up at five o'clock. When I finished, then I could
look for them."
Smith, 26, is no stranger to the Southern heat, having graduated
from Houston in 1992. Her husband, Erik de Bruin, is a former
Dutch discus champion and a two-time Olympian, and the couple
moved to Holland two years ago because Ireland has no 50-meter
pools. De Bruin's competitive career essentially ended with a
positive drug test three years ago, but he will stay busy during
the Games. He is coaching two members of the Dutch track team,
including his sister Corrie in the discus and shot. Asked about
the drug test that cut short her husband's career, Smith echoed
the sentiments of Martino. "That's old news," she said,
literally brushing the question aside with a hand.
Like just about everyone else who visited the medal stand, she
preferred to stick with the new news, the good news. "Even if I
swim rubbish the rest of the week," said Smith, "I'm going home
happy. I'm going home with a gold medal."
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER In the 100 breaststrokefinal, Deburghgraeve wasn't up to his world-record time, but he was close. [Fred DeBurghgraeve swimming]