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Ervin, Hall have touch over Dutch/ U.S. pair shares gold in 50 free, beating rival by an eyelash


SYDNEY, Australia - It took two Americans to overthrow the man who had come to conquer the swim world.

Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands was a dangerous talent when the Olympics began, and his legend grew as he defeated the world's best at the International Aquatic Centre.

First, the man from the land under water toppled the man from the land Down Under, Ian Thorpe, in the 200 freestyle. Then van den Hoogenband bested another world-record holder in the 100 free when he denied Russian Alexander Popov a third straight gold medal.

Van den Hoogenband is the first man to do the 100-200 double since Mark Spitz in 1972. He came to the IAC last night poised to claim the 50 and become the first man ever to sweep those three freestyle races, but a loose cannon on the American team and his barrier-breaking training partner beat him to the touch, in the same time, no less.

Anthony Ervin, the first person of color to make a U.S. Olympic swim team, and Gary Hall Jr., a Deadhead who served a drug suspension two years ago for a positive marijuana test, climbed atop the awards podium together as both were timed in 21.98 seconds. It was the first dead heat for a gold medal since 1984, when Carrie Steinseifer and Nancy Hogshead shared honors in the women's 100 freestyle.

The medals were decided by five-hundredths of a second, and the double-gold celebration was in stark contrast to Thursday night, when chilly rivals Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson shared the bronze in the women's 100 freestyle.

Like the two American women, Ervin and Hall gorge themselves on dietary supplements, as they eat energy bars designed for thoroughbred horses. Like Torres and Thompson, Hall and Ervin trained at the same pool, but they didn't have to be separated at their workouts in Phoenix.

"I don't mind sharing the gold medal platform at all," Hall said. "I couldn't share it with a nicer guy. I spent all summer with him. It's just like another day at practice. There's a million reasons why I shouldn't be getting this. Diabetes, all the turmoil I've been through. To come out on top is such a thrill."

Hall finished second to Popov four years ago, and afterward the Russian said he was a loser just like his father, Gary Hall Sr., who was a three-time Olympian and carried the American flag into Montreal's Olympic Stadium in 1976. The USOC wasn't as enamored with the younger Hall, who wore leather pants onto the pool deck, competed with a black armband painted around his biceps after Jerry Garcia died, and served that drug suspension.

Hall was found to be diabetic in March 1999, and the U.S. coaching staff limited his travel here.

Ervin's father is three-quarters black, his mother one-quarter Native American. The 19-year-old University of California student said he just wants to be a role model for anyone, regardless of race.

"I couldn't share this medal with a nicer guy," Ervin said. "It's just incredible that we tied for the gold medal and that we're both Americans."

Hall had predicted that the Americans would smash the Australians like guitars, but he had to back off a week ago today after Thorpe outreached him in the anchor leg of the 400 freestyle relay.

Last Saturday was a glorious day for Australian swimming, and the hosts tried to regain some of their honor in today's final session. Heading into the swim finale, the U.S. had piled up 12 gold medals and 29 overall, compared to 14 and four, respectively, for the Aussies.

The American haul last night included an Olympic record and a second gold medal for Brooke Bennett. She was 8 years old when Janet Evans set the 800 freestyle mark in Seoul, South Korea, and last night the 20-year-old from Florida dipped to 8:19.67.

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