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Pool queen celebrates with beach party

By Julian Linden in Athens
August 24, 2004 21:06 IST
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Her tumble-turn mightn't be as fast as it once was but when it comes to turning heads, Inge de Bruijn is still queen of the pool.

The Dutch sprinter celebrated her 31st birthday on Tuesday at a beach party in Athens with the sort of grand entrance only a pop star could make.

Michael Phelps with Inge de BruijnWhile the likes of Michael Phelps and Amanda Beard hopped out of their courtesy cars and taxis almost unnoticed, there was no mistaking the arrival of De Bruijn.

The sight of the cherry-red stretch-mini was the first clue she was on her way, but the real proof came when she climbed through the open sun-roof wearing skimpy white hot-pants.

De Bruijn's party plans might have been a flop after she failed to retain the 100 metres freestyle and 100 butterfly titles she won in Sydney four years ago.

She did have the consolation of a silver and two bronzes but she gave herself the perfect present by winning gold in the 50 freestyle on the last night of the swimming finals, three days before her birthday.

"Winning three gold medals in Sydney was great but in some ways winning this one was better," she said between sips of champagne.

"I could have taken the easy way out but I still felt the passion of the sport and so I continued for four more years.

"I knew it was a big risk, I knew it was going to be a hard thing but I really wanted that gold so bad."

De Bruijn became an instant national hero in the Netherlands after Sydney but was under enormous pressure to win again in Athens.

She said she was relieved more than elated by her results in Athens and has not ruled out having another shot at Beijing in 2008 although she said it was unlikely.

"You can't compare anything with the Olympic Games, it's so beautiful and it's so intense," she said.

"But I'm really happy with what I've achieved and I think I can be really proud of myself."

De Bruijn was also happy to pass on some advice to Jodie Henry, who took over her mantle as the new sprint queen by winning the 100 freestyle final a day after breaking the world record in the semi-finals.

De Bruijn was in front of Henry when they reached the halfway mark but the 20-year-old Australian spun around and shot past her on the last lap to finish with three gold medals of her own.

"I think she did great, she's so young and so driven. She had to chase the champion and she beat the champion so I have a lot of respect for her," De Bruijn said.

"I know for a fact that it's so much harder to stay a champion than to become the champion and she's going to experience that as well.

"But the most important thing for her is that she's got the gold already and she should treasure that because nobody's going to take that away from her."

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Julian Linden in Athens
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