Schumacher’s Two-Sport Bid Isn’t Settled

Colorado Springs, CO – USS National Team Director Dennis Pursley has appealed a ruling that would allow Brad Schumacher to compete for both the U.S. National Water Polo and Swim Teams, a move that has U.S. team members crying foul.

Brad Schumacher thought he had won his fight to swim and play water polo for the U.S. the 1998 World Championships in Perth, Australia. Wrong!

The unanimous loser at last week’s hearing by U.S. Swimming’s review board – National Team Director Dennis Pursley – has appealed to the USS board of directors in a move that has Schumacher and his supporters crying foul and has set the team coach against his boss. Pursley doesn’t want to allow any swimmers out of team camps, which the schedule in Perth would require for Schumacher, and he originally ruled that Schumacher would have to choose one sport or the other.

“Dennis had told me that he would support 100% what the board brought back as its decision,” Schumacher said. “Now he’s gone against what he said he was going to do.”

Jeff Rouse, a 3-time Olympic gold medalist, who has rallied other swimmers to Schumacher’s cause said he was also told by Pursley that the 5-member review board’s decision would be final.

“He made an enemy out of me,” Rouse said of Pursley. “He lied to me.”

Pursley said he did talk to both swimmers “and if I used the wrong words and misled them, that wasn’t my intention. I don’t recall my exact words, but I know what my intentions were, and I meant the review process in U.S. Swimming.”

He said the purpose of his appeal was to get the organization’s directors on record regarding participation requirements for National Teams.

“Whatever the final step turns out to be,” Pursley said, “I won’t pursue it any further. If Brad wins, I will welcome him to the team with open arms.”

The 20 USS directors meet Saturday and Sunday in Colorado Springs to deal with Pursley’s appeal, but Schumacher, currently training with the U.S. Water Polo team in Southern California, will not be able to make the trip to present his case. Neither will his personal coach, John Tanner, who is the head coach of Stanford women’s water polo and an assistant on the National Team.

“I thought that by having the board of review, Dennis would be able to abide by that,” Tanner said. “It was win-win. There would be no loss of authority on Dennis’ part and no loss of opportunity for Brad.”

University of Michigan swim coach Jon Urbanchek, who will coach the U.S. men at Worlds strongly opposes Pursley’s appeal.

“If the board of review’s decision was not good enough, if the coach’s opinion is not good enough, I think someone’s in the wrong business here,” Urbanchek said.

“I look at what is best for the athlete. I am the head coach for this team. This is not the right way to prepare for the World Championships. Some battles are worth fighting for. This is not the one. We are here for the athletes; we’re not here for our egos. If you’re here for your ego, you should go into professional sports.

Schumacher, a double-gold medalist in swimming at the 1996 Olympics, joined the National Water Polo Team earlier this year and contributed to the U.S. victory at the 1997 World Cup. He wants to use Perth as a dry run to see if competing in both sports is possible 3 years from now at the 2000 Olympic Games.

Either party may appeal this weekend’s decision to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is responsible for questions regarding athlete’s rights under federal law. The USOC would, as a matter of course, refer the matter to the American Arbitration Association.

Schumacher said he will exhaust all available appeals.

“If I have to make a decision between the two, I will play water polo,” he said. “This has definitely helped influence my decision.”

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