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US Swimmer Goes Against the Tide in Quest for Olympic Gold - 2004-07-20


When American swimming star Gary Hall, Jr. gets on the starting blocks in Athens, he will join his father, 1968, 1972 and 1976 Olympian Gary Hall, Sr., as the only father-son duo to compete in three Olympic Games.

Gary Hall, Jr. already has won eight swimming medals at the past two Summer Olympics. And at age 29 he will try to add to that total in Athens.

He qualified for the men's 50-meter freestyle with a first place finish at the U.S. team trials. Though he failed to qualify for the 100-meter freestyle, he could still swim as part of the 4X100-meter freestyle relay.

Hall says his dad forced him into swimming because he did not want his son sitting around doing nothing. The younger Hall also grew up around the sport and its athletes. Swimming legend Mark Spitz was best man at his parents' wedding. As an infant, Hall was carried around the pool deck on his father's shoulders at the 1976 Olympic games.

Gary Hall, Jr. first found success in the pool in 1992 when he won his first national titles at the Junior National Championships, winning the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events in national and meet record times.

The Cincinnati, Ohio-born swimmer went on to swim at the University of Texas where he anchored the American record-breaking 400-yard freestyle relay at the 1994 national collegiate championships. He gave up his college eligibility later that year and turned pro.

At the age of 21, Hall (Jr.) won two gold medals and two silver medals at the 1996 Olympics. Russian star Alexander Popov beat him in both the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events. But Hall beat Popov to the finish as the Americans beat the Russians in both the 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley relays.

Gary Hall, Jr. overcame obstacles in order to continue swimming after the Atlanta Olympics.

In May 1998, he tested positive for marijuana, after a random drug test at a charity event at his home swim club. He was suspended for three months, which forced him to miss nationals and a chance to swim at that year's Goodwill Games.

The 29-year-old swimmer was diagnosed with type I, insulin-dependent diabetes in 1999. Some of his doctors told Hall that he would no longer be able to compete.

He became very discouraged and joined his uncle in Costa Rica to get away. It was there that he decided he wanted to continue swimming, so he returned to Arizona two months later and began treatment for his diabetes.

Hall resumed training in June 1999 and then won the 50-meter freestyle in a personal best time less than two months later at the national championships. He qualified for his second Olympic team, winning the 50-meter freestyle in an American record time and placing second in the 100-meters at the 2000 team trials.

At the Sydney Olympics, Gary Hall Jr. won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze. He tied with teammate and training partner Anthony Ervin for the 50-meter freestyle gold and also won bronze in the 100-meter freestyle. He won another gold medal as a member of the world-record breaking four-by-100-meter medley relay.

Before the United States and Australia faced off in the 400-meter freestyle relay, Gary Hall made a comment saying the Americans would "smash Australia like a guitar." Swimming the anchor leg of the relay, he was unable to beat Australian Ian Thorpe to the finish, giving the United States the silver medal. It was the first time the Americans had lost the event at the Olympics.

Hall took a break from swimming after the Sydney Olympics, but then rediscovered his competitive drive at an age group meet.

"There was a guy that was two lanes over and he was about 10 yards [meters] in front of me and I just decided that I wanted to take him down [catch him] and did," he said.

After the race, Hall's coach told his parents that he saw a competitive spark in Gary that he had never seen before. And it has carried him at age 29 to make a third U.S. Olympic team.

Hall found success in the 50-meter freestyle in the few meets he competed in after the 2000 Olympics. He won the 50-meter freestyle at the 2001 United States Summer Nationals. He also won a silver medal at the 2001 Goodwill Games in Brisbane, Australia. In 2003, he won a bronze medal in the same event at the Pan American Games.

Away from the pool, Hall moved to Florida to be closer to the water and has added ocean swimming and underwater swimming to his training regimen. He got married in December 2001 to Elizabeth Peterson.

Gary Hall, Jr. is the national spokesperson for Johnson and Johnson's Life Scan, American Diabetes Association and Novo Nordisk, a Danish-based company that specializes in diabetic treatments. He travels around the world and speaks with children, parents, coaches, doctors and executives about his love for the sport of swimming and shares his experiences living with diabetes.

He plans on swimming at an elite level through the 2012 Olympics.

"I will probably, not hang up the suit after that, but probably will not be as fast," he said. "I mean we can only do it for so long."

After his swimming career ends, Hall plans to continue promoting swimming and provide motivation for people with diabetes. He has also said he would like to do television commentary for sporting events and host swim competitions.

For now, Gary Hall, Jr. is focusing on the 2004 Olympics and adding more Olympic hardware to his collection of eight medals.

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