Rick DeMont’s life has certainly been colourful. Imagine winning an Olympic Gold, only 16 years old, only to have it unfairly ripped away from you. To have worked hard only to be unfairly labelled a cheat. DeMont’s story is certainly one of the sport’s most interesting ones!
In 1972, Team USA had a bunch of star swimmers, the brightest of which was Mark Spitz, the record-smashing butterfly and freestyle champion in his early 20s. Rick DeMont, by comparison, was an innocent high school kid, but people started to take notice of him in the Olympic qualification round when he shaved off more than four seconds off the record for the 1500m freestyle.
At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the young Rick DeMont took the gold medal in the men’s 400-meter freestyle – an achievement which should have brought him recognition and worldwide popularity. However, that wasn’t the case. DeMont’s post-race urinalysis (doping test) resulted positive for traces of ephedrine which, although it was a banned substance, was a normal constituent of his prescription asthma medication – which he had declared on the medical form. Rick DeMont, a long-time asthma sufferer, had taken the medication (called Marax) since he was a little boy. Despite doctors saying that the traces were “infinitesimal” (just 12 parts in a million), and despite the US Olympic Committee (USOC) clearing him, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were not so sympathetic.
Just minutes before he was supposed to race in the 1500m freestyle, where everyone was eager to see him repeat the world-record he had reached in the qualifiers, Rick DeMont was informed on poolside that he was disqualified and that he had to return his medal. Members of Team America were in tears. Even as Spitz took home four individual goals and three relay titles, their joy was tinged with disappointment and disbelief about DeMont’s cruel disqualification.
The following year, Rick DeMont came back with a vengeance. He won the 1973 World Championships in Belgrade, becoming the first man to swim a 400m freestyle in less than 4 minutes (3:58.18). That year, he was also named World Swimmer of the Year, and in 1990, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He became a coach at the University of Arizona, where he stayed for decades and trained dozens of NCAA champions.
The IOC has never reinstated Rick DeMont’s medal, changed the race results or overturned the ban, despite his appeals. However, you only have to look at Rick DeMont’s glittering career to see how he didn’t let that unjust setback stop him.