SYDNEY, Australia - When their training sessions at Stanford Swimming got too competitive, Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres were told to work out at different times of the day. But they couldn't be separated in the 100-meter freestyle sprint at the Olympics.
In a pool overflowing with more divas than a VH1 special, Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands won the 100 freestyle at the International Aquatic Centre in 53.83 seconds, just off her world-record time. Sweden's Therese Alshammar was second. Officials then had to dip into the International Olympic Committee's coffers and find a second bronze medal, because Thompson and Torres both touched third in 54.43 seconds.
The two most famous female swimmers in America train in close proximity and are chilly rivals. There was no warm hug on the medal podium, just a grudging acknowledgement at a media conference and veiled allegations that they aren't performing on a level playing field.
The evening was alternately historic and hollow for Thompson, the 27-year-old who collected her ninth Olympic swim medal, more than Dawn Fraser, more than Shirley Babashoff, more than Cornelia Ender. All seven of her golds came in relays. Three days earlier, Thompson had choked miserably in the 100 butterfly, which was also dominated by de Bruijn, and last night was her last chance at individual Olympic gold.
"I'm not going to talk about what I don't have," Thompson said. "I've got more medals than any American female athlete ever. I'm proud of what I've done. ...I have a tremendous amount in my life to be grateful for."
Torres and Thompson stood awkwardly on the medal stand together. "I didn't know what to do," Torres said. "Neither of us are thinking, 'Should we hug?' Anyone in a situation like [Thompson's], I can empathize with. She has tons of things to be proud of."
Thompson posed topless for a Sports Illustrated spread. Torres, a 33-year-old who became the first American to swim in four Olympics, is better known for her work on Tae-Bo tapes. Alshammar was voted "Sexiest Woman in Sweden" two years ago.
De Bruijn gets noticed for her incredibly fast times. She had lowered her world record to 53.77 seconds in the semifinals. She had handled both Americans in the 100 butterfly, and some think there's more to her than long mileage and sweet strokes.
Thompson's only other individual medal at the Olympics came in 1992, when she took silver behind China's Zhuang Yong. Zhuang was accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Thompson tap-danced around the issue yesterday.
"I think it's a sad state of events when everyone who does well gets questioned," she said. "It's sad that there is reason to question. To question things is natural. I think there is cheating in sport. I'm not going to say that Inge is cheating, but it's good to question. ... It's not like it's not going to exist. Improved testing in the future is needed."
De Bruijn has heard Richard Quick, the head of the U.S. swim team, who also happens to coach Thompson and Torres at Stanford, go out of his way to discuss the issue. "It doesn't bother me anymore," de Bruijn said. "It just comes down to jealousy."
On the first day of Olympic swimming that didn't deliver a world record, American backstroker Lenny Krayzelburg got his second gold, and there was more emotion in the Quick camp. Thompson was the star there, until Torres came out of a seven-year retirement and relocated to the Stanford pool.
"Richard [Quick] separated us in December, because it seemed like every workout was an Olympic final," Torres said. "It's ironic that he separated us, and we touched the wall at the same time."