Ryk Neethling, a world-class Olympic 1500m freestyle finalist who went on to win an historic gold with his South African 4x100m freestyle teammates at Athens 2004, has rubbished claims by former girlfriend Amanda Beard that street drugs were used while they were dating.
Beard, 30 and gunning for a place on the US Olympic team in June 16 years after first appearing on the podium at a home Games in Atlanta, alleges in her autobiography In the Water They Can’t See You Cry that to cope with what she described as “loud screaming mean fights” with Neethling she resorted to self-harm.
Beard, Olympic 200m breaststroke champion in 2004 when Neethling claimed relay gold, writes: “I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was trying to figure out how to live in a bad relationship.” The statement reflects the balance of her mind at the time, the symbiotic nature of self-mutilation and trying to get the best out of life not easy to spot.
The swimmers met at the University of Arizona where she was a freshman and Neethling was a senior in the Wildcats squad in the lead-up to Sydney 2000. Their relationship survived Athens 2004.
But the line that has made headlines around the world and whipped up a storm in South Africa is the one Beard highlighted in interviews given to promote her book: on what she describes as a two-month stay in South Africa, during which she met the rest of the Neethling family, she says that ecstasy, cocaine and acid were taken.
From her own point of view, she engaged in such practice because, in her words, she never got the attention she craved from Neethling.
Neethling has, understandably, been quick to respond, telling South African media: "As told in my book Chasing the Dream, the relationship with Amanda Beard was tempestuous. [But] I was stunned to hear about the content related to me in her recently released book.”
He noted that he had never failed a drugs test throughout his swimming career and would have been tested by out-of-competition controllers at the times of the episodes that Beard describes.
“It should be noted that international athletes are subjected to frequent random drug tests in and out of competition. I passed every one of the close on 200 blood and urine tests I did during my career,” said Neethling.
The swimmers have long since moved on, Neethling remains on the swimming scene and also works at a luxury estate in the Western Cape, while Beard, a June 2007 Playboy spread part of her career catalogue, married photographer Sacha Brown, who will be in the stands with their three-year-old child when Beard seeks a place on the US London 2012 team at Omaha in June.