SI Vault
 
Unsynchronized Swimming
Rick Reilly
October 18, 2000
They swam in the same event in the same pool in the same Olympics, but Paula Barila Bolopa and Inge de Bruijn were worlds apart
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 18, 2000

Unsynchronized Swimming

They swam in the same event in the same pool in the same Olympics, but Paula Barila Bolopa and Inge de Bruijn were worlds apart

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

De Bruijn finishes with a fury. When she hits the wall, she spins to see her time: 24.13, a mark that not only breaks her own world record by almost one-fourth of a second but also brings her to within 2� seconds of the men's world mark, unthinkable a few months ago.

Barila Bolopa isn't even halfway across the pool at 24.13 seconds, and the huge crowd at sold-out Sydney Aquatic Centre begins to clap, yell and cheer for her to finish. Unlike her Equatorial Guinea teammate, Eric the Eel, as he became known, she doesn't look as if she'll drown, but the poolside volunteers edge a little closer just the same. Finally, she touches the wall to a thunderous ovation: 1 minute and 3.97 seconds, making Barila Bolopa the slowest swimmer of these Olympics.

De Bruijn is thrilled with her race: "I saw my time, and I said, 'Holy smokes.' It's ridiculous. It's crazy. Someone asked me what my limits are, and I don't know."

Barila Bolopa is thrilled with her race: "I got very tired at the end, but the crowd urged me on. They are very serious about swimming here. I wish we had something like this in my country."

De Bruijn says, "It feels like a dream to me." Barila Bolopa says, "I had no idea it would all be so big."

De Bruijn packs up her swim bag, emblazoned with the name of the company that pays her big guilders to carry it, and prepares to return to the Olympic Village, where she will eat meals that have been studied to within a calorie of their lives, then answer fan mail. "This is definitely my year," she says.

Barila Bolopa packs up her school backpack and prepares to return to the Olympic Village, where she wonders how much is left of the $220 that the entire six-person Equatorial Guinea delegation has for the Games. "What can I say?" she says. "Some have and some do not have."

De Bruijn says she has never heard of Paula Barila Bolopa.

Barila Bolopa says she has never heard of Inge de Bruijn.

1 2