ATLANTA -- Beth Botsford should know her way around the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center by now. It was the site of the Timonium 15-year-old's greatest failure, and now her greatest success.
Botsford won her second gold medal at the XXVI Olympiad last night, swimming the first leg of the 4x100 medley relay for the victorious U.S. women's team to become the second backstroker from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club to win multiple gold and the third NBAC swimmer to win two or more Olympic medals.
And she hasn't even taken part in her best event yet, the 200-meter backstroke, which she will tackle today. But she'll have to show amazing resilience to win, with the preliminary heats this morning.
The race last night was followed by a news conference and a drug test, and what 15-year-old could be expected to sleep after winning a second gold medal at the Olympic Games?
"I'm just hoping she hangs on and gets into the final," NBAC coach Murray Stephens said. "If she does, she'll have a shot at medal contention. She has a realistic chance to make a run at first place, but we'll have to wait and see. This is absolutely a test of everything you are physically and mentally."
It is not the first test she has faced at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.
She floundered here during the 1995 Pan Pacific Games. She did so poorly that she left Atlanta frustrated and discouraged, perhaps even wondering if there was something to the popular notion that highly successful age-group swimmers do not have enough staying power to make it to the top at the senior level.
"I didn't do very well," said Botsford, a sophomore at Garrison Forest School. "It was my first international meet. I felt more used to it this time, because I had already been in the pool."
She had come to the Pan Pacific Games last August as one of the nation's most promising young swimmers only to finish well out of contention in both the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke events. It could have been a major emotional setback, but Stephens said it was an important milestone in her young career.
"She wasn't satisfied," said Stephens, who is also one of the coaches of the U.S. women's team here, "but you have to understand that was a 14-year-old talking. It was a learning experience. Is it necessarily bad to get stomped on once in awhile? Better to have survived some rough bounces than to have everything perfect until the biggest moment of your life.
"Since then she has developed a lot of confidence, she has developed a lot more speed and she has grown up a lot, from a 14-year-old to 15 and three months. That makes a big difference. Here, she had two international meets under her belt and the [Olympic] trials. That experience has helped bring her to this point."
Botsford became the first American woman to win a gold medal at the Atlanta Games on Monday night. There have been many others since, but her performance last night puts her in position to be one of the most successful Olympians of 1996.
Her performance continues the proud legacy of the NBAC, based at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center. Theresa Andrews won gold medals in the 100-meter backstroke and the same relay at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and breaststroker Anita Nall won a gold, silver and bronze medal in the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Last night's relay didn't go exactly as planned. The U.S. coaching staff felt that the combination of swimmers in the evening final had a chance to make a run at the world record (4: 01.67), but Botsford's split wasn't quite up to her 100-meter individual time and breaststroker Amanda Beard didn't come close to her best 100-meter time either, so the U.S. team fell more than a second short (4: 02.88) of a perfect evening.
"I think we could have swam a little better," Stephens said. "Both Amanda and Beth could have gone a half-second faster, but we'll take it. It wasn't pretty, but we got it done."
Botsford swam a 1: 01.67 on the front leg and returned to the wall nearly a second ahead of her closest competitor. Beard gave some ground, but veterans Angel Martino (butterfly) and Amy Van Dyken (freestyle) made it look easy the rest of the way, defeating the silver-medal Australian team by nearly two seconds. The Chinese team finished five seconds back to take the bronze.
Botsford wasn't the only swimmer with local connections to compete yesterday. Florida's Allison Wagner, who competed for couple of years as an age-group swimmer with the UMBC Retrievers, made the final of the 200-meter individual medley but did not earn a medal. Her performance was disappointing, but she already had won a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley on Saturday.
The 4x100 medley relay was the only real highlight for the American team, though distance star Janet Evans and up-and-coming Brooke Bennett both qualified for today's 800-meter freestyle final.
Several American medal candidates failed to make the finals on a day that belonged to triple gold medalist Michelle Smith and Russian Denis Pankratov, who broke his own world record in the 100-meter butterfly.
Pub Date: 7/25/96