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A little help from his friend

With support from runner-up, Aaron Peirsol reclaimed his gold medal

Posted: Friday August 20, 2004 3:58PM; Updated: Friday August 20, 2004 3:58PM
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  Aaron Peirsol (left), Markus Rogan
200 backstroke gold medalist, Aaron Peirsol, and silver medalist, Markus Rogan, are friends as well as rivals.
AP

The forgotten player in the farce at the OAKA Aquatic Center handled himself superbly Thursday night. Yes, it was an embarrassment that U.S. backstroker Aaron Peirsol went from gold to disqualified and back to gold in the time it takes to swim the 1,500 free. But Peirsol wasn't the only victim of FINA's officiating debacle.

Austrian Markus Rogan, a Stanford grad and Peirsol's close friend, went from silver to gold to silver in the same breath. After the 200 meter backstroke final, Peirsol was conducting a poolside interview when the unofficial results listed him as the race winner in 1:54.95. Two minutes later, as Peirsol was still talking to NBC's Melissa Stark, the official results flashed, with the letters DSQ next to his name. Duly stunned by the crowd's collective groan, Peirsol stared at the board motionless for several seconds before walking behind the blocks and lifting his arms as if to encourage more groaning and hissing.

To his credit, so did Rogan. As Peirsol disappeared into the warm-down area, the Austrian, who was second in 1:57.35, shook Piersol's hand at the opposite end of the pool from where the judge in lane 4 had found an error in Peirsol's flip turn at the 150-meter mark. Then he fielded questions from reporters. "It's a bad decision," Rogan insisted. "Not fair. He beat me by seconds. He ran away with the race. An infraction like this is so subjective and so small. What does it gain? I felt really good about the silver medal, because it was a strong swim. I don't if I want to get a gold medal like this. It's not sporting."

According to FINA, the sport's international governing body, its officials rejected the technical explanation of the poolside judge, and negated the infraction before the U.S. team had time to file a protest. Quietly, onlookers wondered if the short-lived disqualification had anything to do with Peirsol's claims earlier in the week that officials had overlooked technical violations by Japanese breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima, who held off Peirsol's teammate Brendan Hansen to win gold.

Later, the British team filed a protest on behalf of James Goddard, the swimmer who went from fourth to third and back to fourth. The Austrians filed one, too, though Rogan insisted that they withdraw it. Why, he was asked, was he so accepting of the officials' bungled decision? "Aaron is one of my best friends," Rogan explained. "Nothing is as beautiful as friendship."

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