By Craig Lord
THE names Michelle Smith and Michelle Smith de Bruin are to be locked in a trunk and left to gather dust in the dungeons of Irish swimming history in a carefully worded new constitution that bars suspended swimmers from holding records and will confine the triple Olympic champion to a century past.
Smith de Bruin, serving a four-year suspension for tampering with a drug test sample, will effectively become a non-person when Swim Ireland launches its own Year Zero on January 1, 2000. The new governing body for the sport has called on current record holders to apply for their records to be included in a new book of records from that date.
Ireland’s greatest Olympian can apply. However, the 26 Irish records that the shamed swimmer set since 1994 – including the three she set to win three Olympic titles in Atlanta in 1996 after she married suspended Dutch athlete Erik de Bruin – will not be eligible for inclusion, the constitution clearly stating that those swimmers who were or are suspended by FINA, the international governing body, will not be considered.
A FINA source said that the new records established by Swim Ireland, as the affiliated member, would become official. If that were the case, the times set by Smith to win her three Olympic titles would no longer be registered in the official world rankings book as Irish records but would still be included on the list of the all-time fastest 25 performances.
Those would remain the only references to Smith’s career from January 1, the only international record she ever set, the European short-course record in the 200m butterfly, having been broken by Denmark’s Mette Jacobsen at the world short-course championships in April.
Swim Ireland’s break with the past represents a final humiliation for Smith de Bruin in Ireland, coming as it does on the coat-tails of the scandal over Derry O’Rourke, a former coach to Smith and the national team, who was jailed for sex crimes and whose case prompted a Government inquiry into Irish swimming that led to the disbanding of the federation. Swim Ireland is the replacement body. Smith was not involved in the O’Rourke court case.
Sean Gordon, the Irish recorder, has long called for Smith de Bruin’s records to be annulled on the basis that no Irish woman would “be able to break a swimming record for the next 30 years”. When Irish freestyler Nick O’Hare said on Irish radio recently that Irish girls would come along and break Smith de Bruin’s records, it was Gordon, tongue firmly in cheek, who invited O’Hare to attempt to break the Olympian’s 400m freestyle time himself. Only two men in Ireland have ever swum faster that Smith de Bruin over distance freestyle events.
One Irish woman, Chantal Gibney, has in fact, broken one of Smith’s records, the rarely raced 50m freestyle short-course. Smith de Bruin never raced the event in serious competition, prompting Gordon to say: “She could have broken Chantal’s record with her overcoat on.”
Previous attempts to strip Smith de Bruin of her records since she was suspended from the sport last year for placing alcohol in a urine sample that subsequently proved to contain the banned steroid Androstenedione, seemed futile, there being no legal argument against the fact that the swimmer set her records before she was suspended.
Swim Ireland appears to have bypassed the problem by simply setting up a new book. Such a move is unprecedented in international swimming, where records set by East Germans and Chinese who served drug suspensions sit yet as gruesome reminders of a drug-fuelled past. There is, nonetheless, precedent in Irish swimming; the record books for juniors were started afresh a few years ago after a change to the age structure of youth competitions.
Smith de Bruin, to whose home a copy of the new constitution was faxed this past week, is understood to be keen to challenge Swim Ireland’s new constitution, which was drawn up under legal advice by the 14-person executive of Swim Ireland.