Atlanta experience still haunts Malar
By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
WINNIPEG -- Joanne Malar prefers not to talk about her 1996 Olympic experience.
When she does, it's just a matter of time before the floodgates open and
three years worth of frustration, sadness and even some bitterness come
"I came fourth and I should have come third because the girl that won
cheated. And that's awful," the Hamilton swimmer said.
"Being on the medal podium would have meant the world to me. I don't care
about a material object. That means nothing. It's that moment. It's that time.
Knowing that I really should have come third. It's just sickening. Everyone
knew she was cheating, but you couldn't do anything about it."
That she is Michelle Smith of Ireland, a previously mediocre swimmer who
stunned the world by capturing three gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics,
at the great expense of two Canadians, Malar and Marianne Limpert. In the
200-metre individual medley, Limpert and Malar finished second and fourth
respectively behind Smith.
Limpert, who still is a powerhouse on the Canadian team, has learned to
cherish her silver. But for Malar, Canada's great hope in the pool heading
into Atlanta, being denied a spot on the podium haunts her.
Smith came out of nowhere to dominate in Atlanta. Her husband, former
world-class thrower Erik DeBruin, had been suspended for steroid use.
Smith passed the in-competition tests in Atlanta, but last year was
suspended for four years by FINA, the world body of swimming, for tampering
with a urine sample.
Both Canadians felt vindicated. But for Malar, there still is an emptiness,
a sadness whenever she reflects back on a time that should have been the time
of her life.
Malar, 23, was the Canadian team's sweetheart three years ago. The
highest-ranking member on an average swim team, the heat of the spotlight was
tremendous. The stress became overwhelming, even before the Games.
"There were days when I would just break down," she said this week, before
her Pan Am events. "There were times when my mom was really worried about me.
"I don't even like to think about it. I was so focused, I didn't realize
how stressed I was.
"But then I would start to cry for no reason."
These days, Malar is her normal, happy self. She loves training in Calgary,
with her new coach, Jan Bidrman. And she is ranked second in the world in the
200 and third in the 400.
"I told myself after Atlanta that if I ever get to that point again, I'll
call it quits," Malar said. "But everything's great now. Sydney's coming and
it will be my chance to shine."