U.S. doping blunder at Munich ’72 Games sent me to a dark place-DeMont

BEIJING, Feb 14 (Reuters) – American Rick DeMont may be 11,000km away from the Beijing Olympics but he knows exactly what it is like as a teenager to be in the eye of a doping storm, just like 15-year-old Russian gold medal-winning figure skater Kamila Valieva.

Valieva tested positive for a banned substance prior to the Games and triggered another doping furore when her test became known on Feb. 8.

While the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Monday cleared her to keep competing in Beijing, she faces months of investigations into her positive case, even though she is a minor. read more

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DeMont was not as fortunate when as a 16-year-old he swam to earn a gold medal for the United States in the 400m freestyle at the 1972 Munich Games, the youngest ever Olympic champion over that distance at the time.

He had his eyes set on more gold but the blond Californian’s dream was shattered when he tested positive for ephedrine, a substance found in his asthma medication which he had properly declared to Team USA medics before the Olympics.

The team’s failure to inform the International Olympic Committee (IOC) led to a stripping of his medal and DeMont becoming the youngest Olympic athlete punished for doping even though it was not his fault.

“I felt at that point in my life I went from the highest high to the lowest low in a day. It was overwhelming as a 16-year-old. It was more than I could handle,” DeMont, a long-time swimming coach and now an accomplished artist, told Reuters in a phone interview from his home in Tucson.

“If she (Valieva) wants to talk to me I would like to talk to her,” DeMont, now 65, said. “Depending on what she thinks is important in life, she will be ok or, I should say, I hope she is ok.”


DeMont arrived in Munich 50 years ago as an ambitious teenager with a love for swimming and ready to test his limits.

“After Munich I was angry,” he said. “I went from a positive type of person to a negative. I was angry, pissed off, violent almost, and that got me through another year.”

In 1973 DeMont briefly picked himself up and went on to win a world title in Belgrade, setting a world record in the 400m and beating Australia’s Brad Cooper, who had been awarded his Munich Olympic gold.

DeMont also became the first swimmer to cover the distance in under four minutes.

“I thought maybe breaking four minutes, getting a world record, beating the same people would make me feel better. It made me a little bit better but didn’t erase what it could never erase.

“I went through a few depressing years, disillusioned, depressed, kind of lost. I was in a dark place.”

But he bounced back again in 1977 to help set another world record in the 4X100m relay.

“That’s how long it took to get over it. As for the Olympics it took at least 20 years when I could feel good about it,” he said.

DeMont, who helped set another world record in the 4×100 freestyle relay in 1977 and is an International Swimming Hall of Fame member, said he could only imagine what Valieva was going through given the pressure on the young skater.

“I had lots of support in my country from people who believed in me and supported me and helped me get through. Unfortunately, none of those were the people that caused the incident,” he said.

There was partial restoration from the then United State Olympic Committee in 2001 when he was cleared of any wrongdoing and medics accepted responsibility for the mistake.

However, his medal, which he won cleanly, has inexplicably not been returned by the IOC.

“It doesn’t seem like it is worth the energy,” DeMont said when asked if he would try to have it returned.

Given the protection offered to Valieva as a minor in her case, some would argue that it is.

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Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.






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