Michelle Smith

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For other people named Michelle Smith, see Michelle Smith (disambiguation).
Michelle Smith
Medal record
Women's swimming
Representing  Ireland
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1996 Atlanta 400 m freestyle
Gold medal – first place 1996 Atlanta 200 m individual medley
Gold medal – first place 1996 Atlanta 400 m individual medley
Bronze medal – third place 1996 Atlanta 200 m butterfly
European Championships (LC)
Gold medal – first place 1995 Vienna 200 m butterfly
Gold medal – first place 1995 Vienna 200 m individual medley
Gold medal – first place 1997 Seville 200 m freestyle
Gold medal – first place 1997 Seville 400 m individual medley
Silver medal – second place 1995 Vienna 400 m individual medley
Silver medal – second place 1997 Seville 400 m freestyle
Silver medal – second place 1997 Seville 200 m butterfly

Michelle Smith de Bruin (born 16 December 1969 in Rathcoole, County Dublin) is a retired Irish swimmer who achieved notable success in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, becoming Ireland's most successful Olympian to date, and whose career ended with a ban from the sporting authorities for tampering with a urine sample. She was a triple gold medallist at the Atlanta Games, for the 400 m individual medley, 400 m freestyle and 200 m individual medley, and also won the bronze medal for the 200 m butterfly event: these events were marked by allegations of doping which were, however, never proven. Michelle Smith, now more commonly referred to by her married name, Michelle Smith de Bruin, is currently a practising barrister.

Swimming career[edit]

Michelle Smith's father taught his daughters how to swim, and Smith was first spotted by a lifeguard in Tallaght swimming pool at age 9. He suggested that Smith's father enrol his daughter in a swimming club. Smith joined Terenure Swimming Club and trained under the tutelage of Larry Williamson. Smith won the Dublin and All-Ireland Community Games at aged 9. She then won ten gold medals at a novice competition. She enrolled in the King's Hospital Swimming Club in 1980. At aged 14, Smith won ten medals at the Irish National Swimming Championships. At 14, she became National Junior and Senior Champion and dominated Irish women's swimming until her retirement in 1998.

Smith first appeared on the world scene as an 18-year-old at the Seoul Olympics and only narrowly missed the semi-finals (top 16). Smith's second major championship was at the 1991 World Championships in Perth, Australia, where she finished 13th in the 400 m individual medley. She competed at the 1991 European Championships and qualified for the 1992 Olympic Games. She competed in the 200 m medley and backstroke and 400 m medley in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, despite suffering an injury in the months leading up to the Games. In 1993 she trained with Erik de Bruin, whom she had met in Barcelona. She finished fifth in the 200 m butterfly at the 1994 World Championships. In that same year, she had suffered glandular fever, which affected her training prior to the World Championships.

In 1995, Smith set Irish records in 50 m, 100 m, 400 m and 800 m freestyle, 100 m backstroke, 100 m and 200 m butterfly, and 200 m and 400 m medley events. She was ranked number 1 in 200 m butterfly, sixth in 100 m butterfly and seventh in 200 m medley; she made sporting history by becoming the first Irishwoman to win a European title in 200 m butterfly and the individual 400 m medley in the same year.

1996 Olympics[edit]

Smith was single-handedly responsible for Ireland's second-largest ever medal haul at one Olympics. She did not qualify for the 400m freestyle event by 5 July deadline, but did so two days later. She only applied for the event after she had arrived in Atlanta for the games, and the IOC granted her an exception. After she qualified for the final and pushed the US swimmer Janet Evans to ninth place, and out of the finals, the US Swimming association tried to get her disqualified, but were unsuccessful. At a later conference, Evans highlighted that accusations of Smith doping had been heard by her around poolside.[1] Smith later received an apology from Evans as her comments led to Smith being treated poorly by US media.[2]


While the accusations were never proven, the controversy continued. These accusations arose from concerns about Smith's improvement in form at a relatively late age (going from 90th to first in the world over a three-year period),[3] and the fact that her coach (and eventual husband) was the athlete Erik de Bruin, who was at the time undergoing a suspension for the use of banned substances.[4] Nevertheless, questions about the integrity of her victory continued. In April 1997, the major US publication Sports Illustrated featured on its cover an athlete's biceps and a syringe, with the sub-heading, "Irish Gold Medalist Michelle Smith: Did She or Didn't She?".[5]

Sample tampering ban[edit]

Two years after the 1996 Summer Olympics, FINA banned Smith for four years for tampering with her urine sample using alcohol.[6] She appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Her case was heard by a panel of three experienced sports lawyers, including Michael Beloff QC. Unusually for a CAS hearing, De Bruin's case was heard in public, at her own lawyer's request.[7] FINA submitted evidence from Dr Jordi Segura, head of the IOC-accredited laboratory in Barcelona, which said she took Androstenedione, a metabolic precursor of testosterone, in the previous 10 to 12 hours before being tested. It also became known that two previous samples, taken between November 1997 and March 1998, had also shown traces of Androstenedione.[8][9] The CAS upheld the ban.

She was 28 at the time, and the ban effectively ended her competitive swimming career. Smith was not stripped of her Olympic medals, as only samples subsequent to her Olympic involvement tested positive.[10]

After the ban[edit]

Her experiences at the CAS had an effect beyond her swimming career. It was there that she developed an interest in the law; after officially announcing her retirement from swimming in 1999, she returned to university, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in law. In July 2005 she was conferred with the degree of Barrister at Law of King's Inns, Dublin. While a student at the King's Inns she won the highly prestigious internal Brian Walsh Moot Court competition. Her first book, Transnational Litigation: Jurisdiction and Procedure was published in 2008 by Thomson Round Hall [11] which is respected in legal circles.[12]

In 2007, she appeared on Celebrities Go Wild, an RTÉ reality television show in which eight celebrities had to fend for themselves in the wilds of rural Connemara.[13] At the launch of the series, she refused to appear on The Late Late Show if host Pat Kenny made any reference to her swimming career. This came after RTÉ show executives told the former swimmer that some reference would have to be made to her controversial past. After the show, an RTÉ spokesperson stated that Michelle had made the decision not to take part when faced with the ultimatum.[14] In an interview on national radio, Smith stated that she had been faced with an ultimatum from the national broadcaster, to go on the show and to answer questions about her ban, or else the broadcaster would not permit her to appear on the show.

Smith has always denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. In 1996, she released her autobiography, Gold, co-written with Cathal Dervan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hodgson, Guy (23 July 1996). "Swimming: Smith takes gold despite drug slur – Sport – The Independent". London. 
  2. ^ "Michelle: I Forgive Evans; Smith Receives Apology From Fallen U.S. – Irish Voice | HighBeam Research". 
  3. ^ https://web.archive.org/20120805004233/http://www.cbc.ca:80/sports/indepth/drugs/stories/top10.html. Archived from the original on 5 August 2012.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Daniel M. Rosen (30 June 2008). Dope: A History of Performance Enhancement in Sports from the Nineteenth Century to Today: A History of Performance Enhancement in Sports from the Nineteenth Century to Today. ABC-CLIO. pp. 103–. ISBN 978-0-313-34521-0. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  5. ^ "Michelle Smith – the most intriguing Olympic story never told | News.com.au". The Daily Telegraph. 21 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "Sport | De Bruin banned". BBC News. 6 August 1998. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  7. ^ "Lane 9 News Archive: Michelle DeBruin's Ban Upheld: A Courtroom Account". 
  8. ^ Mitchell, Kevin (29 February 2004). "How waters rose to engulf Irish idol". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  9. ^ SWIMNEWS ONLINE – Swimming News, Swim Meet Results, Swimming World Rankings, Swim Links, Calendar[dead link]
  10. ^ "Ireland & the Olympic Games". Historyireland.com. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  11. ^ Darius Whelan. "Irish Legal System and General Material on Irish Law". Ucc.ie. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  12. ^ Irish Independent, 16 June 2012, Weekend Review, Page 3
  13. ^ "Celebrities". Celebrities Go Wild (Raidió Teilifís Éireann). 
  14. ^ "Late Late is snubbed by De Bruin after mention of a 'cloud over career'". Irish Independent. 25 November 2012. 

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Krisztina Egerszegi
European Swimmer of the Year
Succeeded by
Ágnes Kovács
Olympic Games
Preceded by
Wayne McCullough
Flagbearer for  Ireland
Barcelona 1992
Succeeded by
Francie Barrett