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Peirsol never gave up

8/19/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Aaron Peirsol never had a doubt.

He stood on the pool deck and saw his Olympic dreams shattered as the letters next to his name changed from OR (Olympic Record) to DSQ (Disqualified). The crowd booed like crazy, his mother burst into tears in the stands, but Peirsol never wavered. He trusted what only he could know. He had done nothing wrong.

After a lightning fast swim in the 200-meter backstroke, an event in which Peirsol already holds the world record, the 21-year-old from Irvine, Calif., emerged from the pool victorious. He had taken the race over his chief competitor and good friend from Austria, Markus Rogan. Razvan Florea of Romania finished third. No sooner had the Peirsol and Rogan congratulated each other, than the announcement came over the loudspeaker: Peirsol disqualified. Suddenly Rogan wins gold, Florea silver and James Goddard of Great Britain gets bronze.

At first bewildered, then egged on by the jeers from the crowd, Peirsol gestured for them to boo louder. Rogan, showing support for his friend, joined in.

They walked off the pool deck still confused over why this disqualification was called.

"We just kept looking for 'just kidding' to pop up on the board," coach Eddie Reese said.

"It's really hard to do something wrong in the backstroke,"
Peirsol wasn't even considering the possibility. "The first thing I thought of was I was happy. No matter what happened, I knew I won," he said.

The official claimed Peirsol had flipped over onto his stomach in order to make the turn at the 100-meter mark, but instead of gliding to the wall with his limbs still, he continued with his flutter kick. An illegal move.

Could this possibly be payback for Peirsol's harsh comments earlier in the week aimed at Kosuke Kitajima of Japan claiming he had cheated Brenden Hansen out of gold with an illegal kick of his own?

The media salivated over the possibility of such a story, but Peirsol wasn't buying it.

"Mistakes like this happen," he said. "I really don't think it's anything personal."

Mercifully, the rumor mill was cut short. Before the United States even had time to fill out a protest form, the decision was overturned by the International Swimming Federation committee. Peirsol gold. Again.

He knew it, he trusted it, and he prevailed.