BARCELONA, Spain — Most Olympians earn their medals when they cross a finish line. Gustavo Borges got his over a loudspeaker.
“I was near tears after the race and I had gone to the warm-up pool,” said Borges, a Brazilian who swims for the University of Michigan. “Then I heard them call my name. And all these people came running up saying, ‘You won the silver! You won the silver.’ “
Only minutes earlier, Borges finished what “felt like the best race of my life” in the 100-meter freestyle. But when he popped up and looked at the scoreboard, he was listed as eighth with no time next to his name. That was soon changed to a fourth-place tie with American Matt Biondi. Borges attributed the mix-up to a problem with his lane clock and left the pool area dismayed and disappointed.
Turns out it was the lane clock. And they weren’t done fixing it. After reviewing the race, officials determined Borges finished second to the Unified Team’s Alexandre Popov with a time of 49.40 seconds to Popov’s 49.02.
The correction moved the remaining swimmers down one notch, costing American Jon Olsen a medal. Olsen (49.51) finished .01 behind bronze medalist Stephan Caron of France.
Jon Urbanchek, Borges’ coach at U-M, where Borges won the NCAA 100 and 200 freestyle titles, said the touch pad in Lane 5 failed for the second straight race. He said it also failed in the women’s 400 freestyle consolation.
“Gustavo was clearly second to the human eye,” said Urbanchek, an assistant coach for the U.S. team.
One problem remained: finding the silver medalist. Because the officials didn’t know where he was, they made an announcement over the PA system:
“Gustavo Borges, please report to the medal ceremonies . . .”
As you can imagine, he ran all the way.