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December 06, 2001

DeMont redeemed after 29 years
By Dan Patrick

This is the kind of sports story that flies right under the radar. But it struck a chord with me because I remember it so well. And I happen to like redemption stories.

In 1972, Rick DeMont was a member of the U.S. Olympic swim team. He won the 400-meter freestyle but his gold medal was taken away when traces of the banned substance ephedrine were found in a post-race urine test. The medal was awarded to Brad Cooper of Australia.

Rick DeMont
Rick Demont was stripped of his 400-meter freestyle gold medal in 1972. He was cleared Wednesday.

The Munich Olympics of 1972 are remembered for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists. After suspending competition for 24 hours, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage declared that "the Games must go on."

Those Munich Games also featured the seven gold medal-winning performances of Mark Spitz, the first loss by the United States in an Olympic basketball game (they had been 62-0) and the introduction of Olga Korbut to an international audience. It's no surprise that the story of an American swimmer losing his medal to a drug test faded rather quickly.

Rick DeMont was 16 in 1972. So was I. At the time I identified with him and wondered what he thought and felt about the situation. DeMont claimed innocence, but that was a predictable response. I tried to follow the story but in 1972 there was not much national coverage of sports, let alone Olympic swimming. And, of course, the other stories dominated the coverage.

But on Wednesday, DeMont appeared on the sports pages again. The U.S. Olympic Committee admitted -- after a 12-year effort by DeMont to clear his name -- that it had erred in its handling of DeMont's medical information at the 1972 Olympics. DeMont had disclosed on his medical statement that he was taking the drugs Marax and Actifed for allergies to wheat and fur. While the USOC's settlement with DeMont acknowledges no wrongdoing and does not contain an apology, it seems that in the best case doctors for the USOC would have told him that those drugs contained banned substances.

At the very least, the USOC could have stood by him when the test came back positive and admitted, in 1972, that DeMont had not cheated but rather made a mistake. They could have fought for and with him. It would not have been hard to demonstrate that the levels of ephedrine in his sample were consistent with his admitted use of those medications.

The USOC's acknowledgment of DeMont's achievement clears the way for him to get his gold medal back. But that decision is in the hands of the IOC. Experts feel that DeMont is a long shot to get the medal back. The IOC does not like to rewrite history.

None of that really matters now. DeMont, now 44, is an assistant swimming coach at the University of Arizona. And after 29 years, the truth is out. He didn't cheat. And he is back in the USOC fold as a clean and legitimate Olympian. But one without a deserved gold medal because a bureaucracy ignored him.

So in 1972, Rick DeMont won a gold medal and then had it wrongfully taken away. No honor, no parade in his hometown. No sweet memories of being the best in the world. Just snickers and raised eyebrows when he tried to defend himself.

Still, justice is sweet. Even if it takes 29 years to arrive.

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