By Phillip Whitten
SYDNEY, Sept.23. GARY Hall, Jr., who won four medals, including two gold for the US swim team at the 2000 Olympic Games–more than any other American male swimmer–came within a whisker of not being allowed to compete at all in Sydney.
The controversial Hall, co-gold medalist with Phoenix Swim Club teammate Anthony Ervin in the 50 meter freestyle last night, and anchor on the world record-setting USA 4 x 100 meter medley relay this evening, received a fax from FINA, swimming''s international governing body, late on August 22. The letter demanded that Hall pay a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs, plus interest, by August 24 or he would not be allowed to compete at the Games. The letter effectively gave Hall one day to pay the fine, which, said Hall, amounted to about US$8,000.
The timing was critical, as the deadline for federations to submit their Olympic entries was August 25. "The timing was no accident," said Hall's father, dr. Gary Hall, Sr., a three-time US Olympian himself.
The fine, according to the younger Hall, was for appealing a three-month suspension FINA had levied on the sprinter after he tested positive for marijuana, a non-performance-enhancing drug, in May 1998. FINA imposed the suspension claiming Hall's offense was a second infraction. Hall maintained that it should be considered a first infraction, since the first time he tested positive–at the 1996 Atlanta Games–marijuana was not on the list of prohibited substances.
Hall's appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, was rejected, and FINA ordered the swimmer to pay the fine for appealing. He refused.
When he received the fax, Hall refused again to pay the fine, saying, "if that means I won't compete in Sydney, then so be it. It's a matter of principle."
USA Swimming, however, decided to pay the fine for Hall, allowing him to compete in Sydney, but only as an advance against future services to be rendered by the swimmer. Hall has agreed to conduct several swimming clinics for American youngsters, without remuneration, to repay the advance.
The decision to advance the money to pay Hall's fine and allow him to compete came only after considerable debate within USA Swimming. Reportedly, National Team Director Dennis Pursley opposed paying the fine, but assented to it after Hall agreed to conduct the clinics.
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