FRECHETTE REJOICES AT NEWS OF GOLD
Montreal, October 2, 1993
[redistributed with permission]
A 14-month-old computer glitch was corrected half a world away
yesterday and at 9:20 a.m. when a journalist delivered the news --
Sylvie Frechette, gold medallist -- she doubled over an muffled a
scream of joy.
Then the woman who came to symbolize grace and poise caught herself.
"You saw me swim," Frechette said to the notebook-carrying messenger
as her eyes glistened, "Now watch me dance."
FINA, the governing body of world aquatics, yesterday touched off the
Barcelona boogaloo, recommending Frechette be give a gold medal in
The International Olympic Committee is "virtually certain" to approve
the decision, according to executive board member*** Pound, who will
be on the telephone with IOC president Juan Antiono Samaranch Monday
in hopes that Frechette will not have to wait until a board meeting
Dec. 6 in Lausanne. Frechette will join Kristen Babb-Sprague of the
United States as a 1992 Olympic gold medallist.
If there is a m***to this story, it isn't that justice delayed isn't
necessarily justice denied.
Sometimes in the political world of judged sports, it just has to swim
Frechette had been waiting since early January, when THE GAZETTE
reported that FINA, which had denied a Canadian protest after
Brazilian judge Ana Maria da Silveira Lobo accidentally had punched an
8.7 for one of Frechette's compulsory figures, had agreed to reopen
the case. For nine months, Frechette thought her silver medal was
still good enough. She had survived a great loss -- her companion,
Sylvain Lake, had committed suicide a week before the Barcelona Games
-- and she could look at that silver with nothing but affection.
Then the official Barcelona results came in the mail.
Frechette, Canada, silver.
There were no asterisks. No wait-a-minutes. No reference to a
Brazilian judge or highway robbery or personal tragedies or nobility
of the human spirit. This was such a warm, human story and the line
in the Olympic record book looked so cold. In 25, 50, 100 years, it
would be hard to say "silver medal -- with an explanation."
"Since Barcelona, my life had been in a little balloon," Frechette
said yesterday morning. "People everywhere were saying how proud
they were of me, that I was their gold medallist. Then all of a
sudden it seemed to pop when I saw that result. I was proud I was a
silver medallist, and I thought it didn't matter if it didn't change.
My life is still wonderful, but I realized that the gold medal meant
more than I thought.
"The important thing for an athlete is seeing your country's flag go
up and hearing the anthem. That is the only magic moment we have as
athletes, and it is the only moment that I didn't get. I got
everything else. I got a medal and I got a reception at the airport
and I got support and encouragement from everyone, but I didn't get my
flag and my anthem when I stood on the podium. I don't know how this
will be done with the IOC, but if possible, that is what I want. The
flag. The anthem.
"But I'm the luckiest gold medallist in history. Quebec, Canada, gave
me a gold medal already with their support. In my heart, I already
had my gold medal. I had my performance and my people, my country,
supporting me. If FINA decided not to go ahead, my gold medal would
have been the one give me by the people. In that way if the IOC
agrees, it would be my second."
The FINA bureau meeting in Tapei began Sept. 28, Tuesday, although
with the 12-hour-time difference, Frechette began her vigil Monday
night. She left her phone number and her cellular number and her
mother's number and her agent's number. Each time a telephone rang,
Frechette jumped. She knew she would have an answer this week.
She just didn't know when. Funny, she had trained for 18 years for
two days in Barcelona. She was in control of herself in the water
like no synchronized simmer ever had been.
But now, like then, she was at the mercy of people who wear blazers.
"Since I came home, I received a couple of letters about judges,"
Frechette said. "One was from a cross-country skier who went to the
Canada Games, and she said that's enough because maybe there was
something not right with the Olympics. I heard from little girls in
Quebec who were doing synchronized swimming, and they said they'd
become afraid of judges because of what happened to me. They thought
if it could happen to me, it could happen to them."
"My mother (Ginette) always told me that the good always win. That
good things happen to good people. She told me if you're honest and
do your maximum, you're going to get your reward. In the last few
months, I told her, "Your theory failed. I did everything I could.
Why hasn't it worked the way you taught me? Well, I guess mothers
Frechette was given the news by a journalist at 9:20 a.m. and within a
half-hour, she was calling Marg Maclennan, the Canadian FINA bureau
member, in Tapei for confirmation. "My hands are sweating like crazy,
Marg," Frechette said into the phone. "My heart is beating as fast as
it was before the Olympic solo final."
She hung up at 10:05 a.m., reassured.
Now there are only two things left to do.
Samaranch must do the first. And he will have to do it with all the
pomp due an Olympic gold medallist, because a 26-year-old who has
lived the joy and pain will have it no other way.
The other thing to do is talk to Babb-Sprague.
They have know each other a long time, known each other in a way only
competitors can. When Lake died, Babb-Sprague sent a message of
condolence through Synchro Canada. The American, who is married to
Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Ed Sprague, was cool at the medal
press conference in Barcelona -- indeed, yesterday her agent said
Babb-Sprague would have no comment until the IOC awards a second gold
medal -- but the women saw each other in Toronto not long ago.
Frechette was there on behalf of National Public Relations and
Babb-Sprague was just there, a baseball wife.
"I was one of the celebrities," Frechette said, "and I was thinking
that it was strange, that she should have been a celebrity, she was
the gold medallist. She came up to me and spoke about how things were
doing in my life. But I sensed it didn't come from the heard that day.
You win the gold medal and you're supposed to be so happy. I hadn't
thought about talking to her right now, but I'm sure I will. Maybe
she will see it as a relief, both of us having gold medals."
Babb-Sprague said in Barcelona she was not about to let a judging
controversy ruin her day. Four*** months later, Frechette was not
going to let the feelings of a rival ruin her fairy-tale day, either.
Frechette was a Cinderella story.
And she finally had her invitation to the dance.
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