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She only shares the wealth

Jenny Thompson, a golden teammate, again falls short as an individual.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 2000


SYDNEY, Australia -- The place was virtually deserted. The competition had ended at the Aquatics Centre more than an hour earlier, and most of the remaining people were cleaning up the mess and preparing for a new day. This was Jenny Thompson's kind of crowd.

She is the most decorated female swimmer in American history, and yet she is considered by her critics to be something of a flop.

Saturday, she won another gold medal in a relay, and by Sunday she was trying to dig herself out of another mess.

Thompson, who set a world record in the 100-meter butterfly while winning the Pan Pacific championship a year ago, finished a disappointing fifth in the 100 fly Sunday.

"Jenny has had the opportunity to have more disappointments than anyone ever has, and I don't think she regrets that one bit," teammate B.J. Bedford said. "Whenever she has a disappointment, she comes right back again and puts herself in position to win. That's what makes her a great competitor."

Thompson has won six gold medals in Olympic competition, more than any female in U.S. history. But that record comes with a twist. All six of her golds have been won on relay teams.

In individual events, she may be the world's greatest underachiever. She has won individual gold medals in the World Championships, the Pan Pacific Championships and the Goodwill Games. Thompson is the former world record holder in the 100-meter butterfly and the 100-meter freestyle. And for all these accomplishments, she has zero individual Olympic gold medals.

She came close to acknowledging that her flameout in Sunday's race was due to the pressure she feels to earn an individual gold.

"I was trying too hard, and the emotions just tightened me up," Thompson said.

She was not the favorite. That honor belonged to Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands, who broke Thompson's world mark.

Thompson went out strong with de Bruijn and was in second at the 50-meter turn. She faded terribly down the stretch as de Bruijn won and Dara Torres earned bronze.

"I felt good. I felt strong before the race. I went for it," Thompson said. "I have to admit I'm pretty disappointed. But I'll leave this evening a lot better for it."

Thompson has one more chance, in the 100-meter freestyle, but again will encounter de Bruijn, the world record holder. "I just have to not make it bigger than it is," said Thompson, who is scheduled to begin medical school at Columbia University in January. "I have to have some perspective. There's more to life than swimming."

Fast facts: swimming

Just as the first night of finals was a showcase for the Australians, the second was big for the Americans -- with one exception. The highlights:

BROOKE BENNETT: The Valrico resident won her second-best event, the 400-meter freestyle, to earn her second career gold medal. Bennett led all the way to win in 4 minutes, 5.80 seconds, giving the United States its first gold in the event since Janet Evans in 1988. Second, 1.27 seconds behind, was American Diana Munz, who beat Bennett at the U.S. trials.

TOM DOLAN: The American, an asthmatic, spent part of the afternoon attached to an oxygen mask receiving treatment for a respiratory infection. He then broke his 6-year-old world record in the 400 individual medley with 4:11.76 to win his second straight gold in the event. His previous record was 4:12.30. Second was teammate Erik Vendt, 2.47 seconds behind. "To be able to go 1-2 back-to-back was a huge boost for (the United States)," Dolan said.

DARA TORRES: Torres, 33, won the bronze medal in the 100 butterfly, behind the Netherlands' Inge de Bruijn, who set a world record, and Slovakia's Martina Moravcova. The American, who came out of a seven-year retirement to make the team, won her first individual medal in her fourth Olympics.

JENNY THOMPSON: The woman who the night before became the United States' career female gold-medal leader failed in her first Sydney attempt to win her first career individual gold. She finished fifth in the 100 butterfly. "The emotions just tightened me up at the end," said Thompson, who has six golds, all in relays. She has one more chance to win an individual title, in the 100 freestyle.

MORE WORLD RECORDS: Sunday's finals produced a total of three world records, bringing to eight the number set in the first two days of competition. That's more than were set during the entire 1996 Games. De Bruijn (de BROWN) won in 56.61 seconds, bettering her mark of 56.64 and lowering the world record for the third time this year. In the semifinals of the men's 200 freestyle, Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband swam a 1:45.35 to better Australian phenom Ian Thorpe's 1:45.51.

ALSO NOTABLE: Ed Moses of the United States won a silver medal in the 100 breaststroke, finishing behind Domenico Fioravanti, who won Italy's first Olympic gold in the sport. Australia did not win a medal in any event. After two days of competition, the United States was tops in medals with nine -- three gold, four silver, two bronze. No. 2 were Australia, Italy and the Netherlands with two each.

-- Compiled from Times wires.

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