MICHELLE DE BRUIN, the Irishwoman who as Michelle Smith swam from obscurity into the record books when she won three gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, last night had a four-year ban upheld by sport's international arbitration court. At 29, and with her credibility seemingly terminally damaged, the announcement could effectively mark the end of De Bruin's controversial career.
De Bruin had appealed to the Court for Arbitration in Sport after she was suspended last August by Fina, the international swimming federation, for tampering with a urine sample from an out-of- competition test conducted at her Kilkenny home in January last year. According to the testing officers, De Bruin's sample smelled strongly of whiskey, and subsequent laboratory analysis discovered a high level of alcohol in the sample.
Under international swimming rules, manipulating a urine sample carries the same four-year penalty as a positive drug test for anabolic steroids. De Bruin, who has always denied the charges against her, is married to the former discus thrower, Erik de Bruin, a former Dutch champion who was banned from athletics for four years after testing positive for drugs. Her case was heard at the beginning of last month by a panel of three experienced sports lawyers, including the Briton, Michael Beloff QC. Uniquely for a CAS hearing, De Bruin's case was heard in public, at her own lawyer's request. Thus, it became known that three samples, taken between November 1997 and March 1998, had shown signs of the body-building drug androstenedione. De Bruin's ban, however, is for tampering, rather than for drug use. A statement from CAS's Lausanne offices last night read: "Based on the facts of the case, and the evidence before them, the arbitrators were of the opinion that Fina had convinced them that Smith-de Bruin was the only person who had the motive and opportunity to manipulate the samples. …