De Bruin snub a disgrace, says Coghlan

 

ONE OF Ireland’s most successful athletes says the treatment of Michelle de Bruin by the Irish public has been a disgrace and that the former swimmer is “our greatest Olympian”.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan, who was speaking before being given a distinguished fellowship of Athlone Institute of Technology yesterday, said the fact that de Bruin had never failed a drugs test left her at the top of the pile of our Olympians.

De Bruin won three gold medals and one bronze at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, but was discredited after later being found guilty of tampering with a urine sample.

Despite possessing the best Irish record at the Olympics, de Bruin was not selected by the Olympic Council of Ireland as one of the 41 torch-bearers for the Olympic flame as it made its way through Ireland.

“There are athletes around the world that are tainted with positive tests and won medals who were never castigated in their home countries like Michelle was,” said Mr Coghlan.

“Let’s remember she never – ever – tested positive, particularly during her Olympic year. If you look at the record books, she is down as winning four medals at the Atlanta Olympics and it is because of that that I have to give her credit as Ireland’s best ever Olympian.

“There are a lot of people who would agree with me but there are also a lot of people who would disagree with me,” he said.

Mr Coghlan, who broke the world indoor mile record on three occasions, competed in both the 1976 and 1980 Olympics, but on both occasions came home with fourth-place finishes.

“Personally it would be very easy for me to castigate her, as I may have been done out of a medal in the 1980 Olympics.”

Mr Coghlan referred to Finnish runner Kaarlo Maaninka, who won silver and bronze medals in the 10,000m and 5,000m races and later admitted to blood doping, which was not illegal when he competed. “At the time I wasn’t interested in silver or bronze; I wanted gold, but you appreciate the difference between third and fourth as the years progress.

“I know for a fact that a lot of medallists cheated, but Michelle Smith never failed a drugs test. Based on her clear record I would have to support her as our best Olympian,” Mr Coghlan said.

Mr Coghlan was honoured yesterday with the distinguished fellowship of Athlone Institute of Technology, along with fellow Irish Olympic athletes Sonia O’Sullivan, former world champion boxer Barry McGuigan and former Westmeath footballer Mark Rohan, the current world hand-cycling champion, who will compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.