Michelle Smith de Bruin, Irish swimmer who achieves notable success in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, becoming Ireland’s most successful Olympian to date, is stripped of her Irish swimming records on July 16, 1999 for tampering with a urine sample.
Smith is born in Rathcoole, County Dublin on December 16, 1969. Her father teaches her and her two sisters how to swim. She first appears on the world scene as an 18-year-old at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. She also appears in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, despite suffering an injury in the months leading up to the Games.
Smith wins three gold medals and a bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, making her Ireland’s most decorated Olympian. There is controversy at the games due to her qualifying for the 400m freestyle event at the expense of the then world-record holder Janet Evans, an American swimmer who finishes ninth in the preliminary swims with only the top eight advancing. Smith does not submit her qualifying time for the 400m freestyle event before the July 5 deadline but does so two days later with the Irish Olympic officials insisting they had been given permission to submit the qualifying time after the deadline.
Smith applies for the event after she arrives in Atlanta. After she qualifies at the expense of Evans, the US Swimming Federation, supported by the German and Netherlands swimming teams, challenge a decision to allow Smith to compete but are unsuccessful. At a later conference, Evans highlights that accusations of Smith doping had been heard by her around poolside. Smith later receives an apology from Evans as her comments lead to Smith being treated poorly by U.S. media.
Two years after the 1996 Summer Olympics, FINA bans Smith for four years for tampering with her urine sample using alcohol. She appeals against the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Her case is heard by a panel of three experienced sports lawyers, including Michael Beloff QC. Unusually for a CAS hearing, Smith’s case is heard in public, at her own lawyer’s request. FINA submits evidence from Jordi Segura, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accredited laboratory in Barcelona, which says she took androstenedione, a metabolic precursor of testosterone, in the previous 10 to 12 hours before being tested. The CAS upholds the ban.
Smith is 28 at the time, and the ban effectively ends her competitive swimming career. She is not stripped of her Olympic medals, as she had never tested positive for any banned substances.
Smith’s experiences at the CAS have an effect beyond her swimming career. It is there that she develops an interest in the law. After officially announcing her retirement from swimming in 1999, she returns to university, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in law. In July 2005 she is conferred with the degree of Barrister at Law of King’s Inns, Dublin. While a student at the King’s Inns she wins the highly prestigious internal Brian Walsh Moot Court competition. Her book, Transnational Litigation: Jurisdiction and Procedure, is published in 2008 by Thomson Round Hall.
Smith has always denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. In 1996, she releases her autobiography, Gold, co-written with Cathal Dervan. She lives in Kells, County Kilkenny with her husband, Erik de Bruin, and their two children.