Day 30: The Sunken Scandals Of Ireland’s Swimming Past

originally published January 30, 2012

This morning started out beautifully. For school, I had written a short script for a Greatest American Hero video game, as well as another video game snippet in which you play the fast-food cashier who must contend with Clara Peller’s demands of “Where’s the beef?”. I was feeling creative, feeling retro, feeling funny. And then Wikipedia shattered the mood with the stories of horror and filth that surrounded the Irish Amateur Swimming Association.

Ireland has won four swimming medals at the Olympics: all by Michelle Smith and all at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Let’s deviate a little and celebrate this great performance – the most successful Olympic performance for Ireland ever – by Michelle Smith.

Let the record show, Michelle Smith thoroughly kicks ass.

Michelle, who had originally been denied the opportunity to compete for Ireland but got in on appeal, snagged the bronze for the 200 meter butterfly and the gold for the 400-meter freestyle and the 200 and 400 meter individual medley. In short, she made Aquaman look like a pathetic amateur.

Sore-loser Janet Evans (USA) accused Smith of doping. Smith, whose voice was now a husky baritone, adjusted her brand new penis and asserted a strong denial of the charge.

No really, Smith tested clean. Sort of. Two years later her blood test contained an inordinate amount of alcohol. Not drinky-alcohol, but drop-some-in-to-muck-up-the-test alcohol (she was Irish, so this may have been a misunderstanding). They also detected a trace amount of Androstenedione, the body-building drug that she was allegedly trying to cover up. Smith was banned for four years from the sport, thus ending her career.

Oh well, at least she got to meet President Gropey-Pants.

So much for the happy deviation. I guess the hidden rainbow here is that Smith became a lawyer, and was given a dream-job in broadcasting: she was a contestant on a show called “Celebrities Go Wild”. So… that’s a win.

Back to the IASA. In the pre-Smith days, when Ireland only dreamed of bringing home Olympic gold (or Olympic anything) in swimming, they hired a guy named Derry O’Rourke as coach. He coached the team twice: in Moscow in 1980 and again in Barcelona in 1992.

Surely we can root for… nope, this isn’t going to end well.

In 1998, right around the time Ireland was dealing with the embarrassing allegations against their greatest Olympic champ, O’Rourke was charged with twenty-seven sexual abuse offenses against minors. Twenty-freaking-seven. He was thrown in jail for twelve years, only to get another ten slapped on in 2005 for a belated case: the repeated rape and indecent assault of a female swimmer between the ages of 14 and 18. Ouch.

Then there was George Gibney, the Irish national coach from 1984 to 1991. He was also charged with 27 counts of sexual assault, but it was decided that too much time had elapsed since the alleged incidents occurred. Gibney took off for America and hasn’t returned since.

Well, we already know this is bad news.

Frank McCann, here’s another winner wearing Irish green. Frank was team manager from the 80s through to the 90s. He was somehow involved in this mess, even having had a child with one of the underage swimmers. Don’t worry though, his family was spared the shame of learning of his indiscretions. Frank graciously murdered them, wife and child both.

In 1998, I guess the Irish Amateur Swimming Association had decided that their reputation might be slightly askew, what with 50+ sex abuse charges, a double-murder and a possible doping scandal by their most celebrated athlete. They called it quits, and Swim Ireland was formed in its place. How Swim Ireland is greatly different from the IASA, I have no clue. Maybe they just reupholstered the seats in a different color. Maybe they replaced the coffee brand used in the break room and threw out the Sanka. It’s also possible that they burned the IASA headquarters to the ground with the entire governing board trapped inside. Seems to me that might have made the news, though.

Pictured: a legit solution.

Swim Ireland lasted ten years before their first controversy. More sensitive readers may want to skip this paragraph, as it may shock and disgust you. Four swimmers flew to Beijing in 2008 for the Summer Olympics with… are you ready?… improper hats.

The hats didn’t conform to the IOC standard. They had to use rental hats (or something), which is a little like 2012 Alka Seltzer Plus Liquid Gels United States Bowling Congress Masters champion Mike Fagan renting shoes right before the big game (or match, or volley, or scrum, or whatever they call it in bowling).

It actually was a pretty big deal. Melanie Nocher was in the middle of her 200-meter Freestyle heat when her goggles came off, flying into the next lane, colliding with Austrian swimmer Greta Pernaggenhasher, and bursting into flames, killing her instantly.

Melanie swore she’d lost her goggles because of the hat controversy. Swim Ireland had apparently been given ample notice that the hats they wanted to bring would violate the code, yet they brought them anyway. And the IOC-supplied hats weren’t even the right size, which messed with the position of Melanie’s goggles.

They should have known these hats weren’t up to code.

So, apart from this one blemish, it would appear that Swim Ireland has done fairly well in keeping out of controversy’s way. At the end of the article, I was drawn to one of Wikipedia’s ‘External Links’. It states: “Map of the swimming pool in Dublin.”

I clicked on the link, sincerely hoping I’d get a giant jpeg of a blue rectangle. Unfortunately, it was a map of all the swimming pools in Dublin. And there are a lot. Seriously, there are seventy-one. Edmonton, where I live, which has close to a million residents to Dublin’s 525-thousand, has seventeen. We have four to six months of winter every year, they have rain. The Irish must love to swim.

Wait, one of the entries on that list is named ‘Dun Loaghaire Baths.’ Maybe that shouldn’t count as a swimming pool.

Of course the best part of the Dublin Swimming Pools page is not the map itself but the banner just above it. It’s not so much the funky font or the curiously red ‘i’ in ‘Dublin’, but instead the choice to make use of their model in such an unusual position.

This could be Swim Ireland’s new scandal-in-waiting.

NOTE: That page has since been removed, but here’s a picture of some Irish food instead.

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