Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith de Bruin (born 16 December 1969 in Rathcoole, County Dublin)[1] is an Irish retired swimmer who achieved notable success in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, becoming Ireland's most successful Olympian to date, and whose career ended with a ban from the sporting authorities for tampering with a urine sample. She was a triple gold medallist at the Atlanta Games, for the 400 m individual medley, 400 m freestyle and 200 m individual medley, and also won the bronze medal for the 200 m butterfly event: these events were marked by allegations of doping. Michelle Smith, now more commonly referred to by her married name, Michelle de Bruin, is currently a practising barrister. Michelle and Erik married in 1996. Michelle has two sisters Aisling and Susan. Also a younger brother Brian. Her father is Brian and her mother is Patricia Smith nee Traynor.

Michelle Smith
Medal record
Women's swimming
Representing  Ireland
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1996 Atlanta 400 m freestyle
Gold medal – first place 1996 Atlanta 200 m individual medley
Gold medal – first place 1996 Atlanta 400 m individual medley
Bronze medal – third place 1996 Atlanta 200 m butterfly
European Championships (LC)
Gold medal – first place 1995 Vienna 200 m butterfly
Gold medal – first place 1995 Vienna 200 m individual medley
Gold medal – first place 1997 Seville 200 m freestyle
Gold medal – first place 1997 Seville 400 m individual medley
Silver medal – second place 1995 Vienna 400 m individual medley
Silver medal – second place 1997 Seville 400 m freestyle
Silver medal – second place 1997 Seville 200 m butterfly

Swimming careerEdit

Michelle Smith's father taught his daughters how to swim, and Smith was first spotted by a lifeguard in Tallaght swimming pool at age 9. He suggested that Smith's father enroll his daughter in a swimming club. Smith joined Terenure Swimming Club and trained under the tutelage of Larry Williamson. Smith won the Dublin and All-Ireland Community Games at aged 9. She then won ten gold medals at a novice competition. She enrolled in the King's Hospital Swimming Club in 1980. At aged 14, Smith won ten medals at the Irish National Swimming Championships. At 14, she became National Junior and Senior Champion and dominated Irish women's swimming until her retirement in 1998.

Smith first appeared on the world scene as an 18-year-old at the Seoul Olympics and only narrowly missed the B-final in the 200 m backstroke (top 16). Smith's second major championship was at the 1991 World Championships in Perth, Australia, where she finished 13th in the 400 m individual medley. She competed at the 1991 European Championships and qualified for the 1992 Olympic Games. She competed in the 200 m medley and backstroke and 400 m medley in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, despite suffering an injury in the months leading up to the Games. In 1993 she trained with Erik de Bruin, whom she had met in Barcelona. Both would start a relationship, and eventually marry in 1996.[2] She finished fifth in the 200 m butterfly at the 1994 World Championships. In that same year, she had suffered glandular fever, which affected her training prior to the World Championships.

In 1995, Smith set Irish records in 50 m, 100 m, 400 m and 800 m freestyle, 100 m backstroke, 100 m and 200 m butterfly, and 200 m and 400 m medley events. She was ranked number 1 in 200 m butterfly, sixth in 100 m butterfly and seventh in 200 m medley; she made sporting history by becoming the first Irishwoman to win a European title in 200 m butterfly and the individual 400 m medley in the same year.

1996 OlympicsEdit

Smith won three gold medals and a bronze medal in Atlanta, making her Ireland's most decorated Olympian. There was controversy at the Olympic games due to Smith qualifying for the 400m freestyle event at the expense of the then world-record holder Janet Evans, an American swimmer who finished ninth in the preliminary swims with only the top eight advancing. Smith did not submit her qualifying time for the 400m freestyle event before the 5 July deadline but did so two days later with the Irish Olympic officials insisting they had been given permission to submit the qualifying time after the deadline. Smith applied for the event after she had arrived in Atlanta. After Smith qualified at the expense of Evans, the US Swimming Federation, supported by the German and Netherlands swimming teams, challenged a decision to allow Smith to compete but were unsuccessful.[3] At a later conference, Evans highlighted that accusations of Smith doping had been heard by her around poolside.[4] Smith later received an apology from Evans as her comments led to Smith being treated poorly by US media.[5]

Sample tampering banEdit

Two years after the 1996 Summer Olympics, FINA banned Smith for four years for tampering with her urine sample using alcohol.[6][7] She appealed against the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Her case was heard by a panel of three experienced sports lawyers, including Michael Beloff QC. Unusually for a CAS hearing, Smith's case was heard in public, at her own lawyer's request.[8] FINA submitted evidence from Jordi Segura, head of the IOC-accredited laboratory in Barcelona, which said she took androstenedione, a metabolic precursor of testosterone, in the previous 10 to 12 hours before being tested. The CAS upheld the ban.

She was 28 at the time, and the ban effectively ended her competitive swimming career. Smith was not stripped of her Olympic medals, as she had never tested positive for any banned substances.

After the banEdit

Her experiences at the CAS had an effect beyond her swimming career. It was there that she developed an interest in the law; after officially announcing her retirement from swimming in 1999, she returned to university, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in law. In July 2005 she was conferred with the degree of Barrister at Law of King's Inns, Dublin. While a student at the King's Inns she won the highly prestigious internal Brian Walsh Moot Court competition. Her book, Transnational Litigation: Jurisdiction and Procedure was published in 2008 by Thomson Round Hall.[9]

In 2007, she appeared on Celebrities Go Wild, an RTÉ reality television show in which eight celebrities had to fend for themselves in the wilds of rural Connemara.[10]

Smith has always denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. In 1996, she released her autobiography, Gold, co-written with Cathal Dervan. Smith lives in Kells, County Kilkenny with de Bruin and their two children.[2]


In 1999, the Irish national swimming federation wiped clean Smith's records from their books by writing a new constitution that prohibited swimmers who had been or were suspended from holding records.[11] Despite Ireland having just 5 Olympic gold medalists in its history, Smith's accomplishments are mostly ignored by the Irish public and she is no longer celebrated among the pantheon of great Irish athletes.[12]

Smith never failed a drug test in her career, but the later tampering case and ban gave new life to the longstanding rumors about her performance.[13] Critics had long pointed to

  • that Smith come from a country with few swimming facilities
  • that she was never regarded as a potential Olympic champion swimmer early in her career
  • that all her huge drops in times came after Erik de Bruin began training her in 1993; Erik de Bruin was a Dutch discus thrower with no background in swimming, failing a drug test in 1993, and being banned from competition for four years
  • that her substantial drops in time came in her mid-20s, an advanced age for a previously lightly regarded swimmer; she could not get out of the preliminary heats in the 1992 Olympics, but only 4 years later at age 26, won three gold medals.;[14] she won the 400-metre individual medley in Atlanta in 4:39.18, almost 20 seconds faster than her time at the 1992 Olympics
  • that her physique greatly changed between the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, with her displaying far broader shoulders and adding a great deal of muscle mass by 1995.[11]

Katie Taylor and her gold medal win in boxing in 2012, the first gold medal for Ireland since Smith's three in 1996, was seen as a cleansing moment for Irish sports since they could now celebrate an Olympic gold medal athlete without any taint or embarrassment.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Michelle lives for fast lane". The Irish Times. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b TARNISHED GOLDEN GIRL, Chicago Tribune
  3. ^ Michael Beloff; Tim Kerr; Marie Demetriou; Rupert Beloff (19 October 2012). Sports Law. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 130–. ISBN 978-1-78225-034-0.
  4. ^ Hodgson, Guy (23 July 1996). "Swimming: Smith takes gold despite drug slur – Sport – The Independent". London.
  5. ^ "Michelle: I Forgive Evans; Smith Receives Apology From Fallen U.S. – Irish Voice | HighBeam Research". Archived from the original on 5 November 2013.
  6. ^ "Sport | De Bruin banned". BBC News. 6 August 1998. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  7. ^ Crouse, Karen (3 August 2016). "Katinka Hosszu and Her Husband Raise Eyebrows at the Pool". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 August 2016. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, Michelle Smith of Ireland won three gold medals while coached by her husband, a former discus thrower. But she had ascended to the top of international competition at a relatively late age and after a mediocre career. Two years later, she was barred from swimming when it was determined she had manipulated a drug test by spiking her urine sample with alcohol.
  8. ^ "Lane 9 News Archive: Michelle DeBruin's Ban Upheld: A Courtroom Account". Archived from the original on 3 February 2013.
  9. ^ Darius Whelan. "Irish Legal System and General Material on Irish Law". Ucc.ie. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Celebrities". Celebrities Go Wild. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012.
  11. ^ a b "For Ireland's Smith, success brought scrutiny". ajc.com. Atlanta Journal Constitution.
  12. ^ "Dismantling of an Irish legend". The Age.
  13. ^ "Olympic Swimming Star Banned; Tampering With Drug Test". The New York Times.
  14. ^ "Olympics: Michelle Smith saga still divides 20 years on". The Irish Times.
  15. ^ "'Good enough to beat men': boxer Katie Taylor etches her name into sporting folklore". The Sydney Morning Herald.

External linksEdit

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Krisztina Egerszegi
European Swimmer of the Year
Succeeded by
Ágnes Kovács
Olympic Games
Preceded by
Wayne McCullough
Flagbearer for   Ireland
Barcelona 1992
Succeeded by
Francie Barrett