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Karin Helmstaedt

If anyone was slow to get going on the first morning of the swimming competition, Fred deBurghraeve made them sit up and take notice.

When the Belgian dove into the water for the final heat of the men's 100 breaststroke, he was the fastest man this year for the distance. When he touched the wall, he was the fastest man in history. DeBurghraeve's time of 1:00.60 established new world and Olympic records, and there was no doubt in anybody's mind that he would stand on the podium later that night.

The 23-year-old from Roeselare displayed great power and front-end speed, storming to the 50 mark in 28.23. The crowd roared as with each stroke the reality of the spectacle sank in: Hey, this is the Olympics! This is what it means to be fast.

His coach, Ronald Gaastra, confirmed that Fred had been eyeing the record. "He wanted to take it out," said Gaastra, smiling. "If he wins the event tonight he'll be the first swimmer from Belgium ever to win a gold medal."

Fred did not disappoint. He took the gold in 1:00.65, a mere 5 hundredths off his world mark. "It certainly felt better this morning," he said after the race. "But I'm happy. It feels good to be the best."

Mission accomplished World record in prelims, gold in final for deBurghgraeve
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Fred got to be the best in a rather unconventional way-by himself. While he credits his coach as knowing more about swimming than anyone else in Belgium, Gaastra lives 120 km away from his protégé and the two communicate by phone and fax. Gaastra sets up Fred's program, but Fred executes it himself.

"I guess I'm a loner," says Fred, "I like to do things my way and I don't like anyone to interfere. Ronald calls every day and visits once a week."

Hard work is not a problem for Fred. After the Barcelona Olympics, where he finished 34th, financial hardship forced him to take a part-time job in a brewery. He worked 20 hours a week while continuing to train and found it very difficult to perform. After about 8 months the Belgian Olympic committee agreed to help him financially to allow him to train fulltime. Fred is convinced that being able to train "on a professional basis" made the world record possible.

"Sometimes it's hard when I'm in the water from 5:30 to 7:30 in the morning, and if I don't feel good it's easy to just stop," says Fred. "I listen to what my body has to say, and I either swim harder or easier. I never watch the clock during training."

He doesn't let up very often though, and trains three times a day during an endurance cycle. Fred works in two week cycles, making his weight training correspond to his water work (endurance, speed, etc.).

On winning Belgium's first swimming gold medal he says," I hope that people in Belgium will start to pay more attention to swimming." As for swimming under the minute mark in the 100, he smiles and says, "Why shouldn't it be possible?"

PLACE Roeselare
HEIGHT 5 ft. 11 in. / 181 cm
WEIGHT 158 lbs / 72 kg
HOME Roeselare, BEL
COACH Ronald Gaastra
96 Olympics 1st 100 breast 1:00.65
World record 1:00.60 prelims 96 Olympics
95 Europeans 1st 100 breast 1:01.12
94 Worlds 3rd 100 breast 1:01.79
93 Europeans 4th 100 breast 1:02.54
92 Olympics 100 breast 1:05.10 prelims
91 Europeans 8th 100 breast 1:02.99

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