Unsinkable Sylvie Swimmer
Frechette’s loss of the gold medal due to a judging error was one of several disappointments and frustrations experienced by Canadian athletes at the 1992 Summer Olympic games in Barcelona, Spain.
She would say later, “with all the emotion I had.” To the soft strains of a gently lyrical soundtrack, Montreal’s Sylvie Frechette, wearing virginal white, adorned only with a discreet touch of lace, glided through an expressive synchronized swimming program that at times seemed tinged with melancholy. The poignant mood was fitting for a woman who, in order to compete at all, had to shake off the shock of a lifetime: the suicide of her boyfriend, Sylvain Lake, on the eve of the Olympics. If anyone deserved a fair shake at the Barcelona Games themselves, it was surely Frechette. But although she outscored her sequined American rival, Kristen Babb-Sprague, in the final routine, she finished a fraction behind in the two-day event–the victim of a controversial judging error on the first day. Accepting her silver medal, the 25-year-old Frechette demonstrated the same grace under adversity that she did in the water. Said the swimmer: “There was a mistake, but that is part of my sport. I cannot change anything. I did my very best.”
For Canadians, what happened to Frechette was one of the week’s many frustrations. From the nagging hamstring injury to decathlete Michael Smith and the sudden fatigue of kayaker Renn Critchlow, to the missed jump of equestrian Ian Millar and his horse Big Ben, dashed medal hopes abounded. But Canadian athletes also grabbed final-week medals in track, wrestling, boxing and yachting. And in an Olympics dominated by the Unified Team and the United States, the Canadians made their mark as well: the team’s medal total of 18 is the country’s best ever outside the 1984 Los Angeles Games, which were boycotted by the Communist bloc.
While Americans followed their basketball Dream Team’s grab of Barcelona gold, for Canadians there was no second-week drama more powerful than that of the trouble-plagued Frechette. Her grandfather had died in January. And less than a week before she was to leave for Spain, she discovered Lake’s lifeless body in the carbon monoxide-filled townhouse that they shared in Laval, north of Montreal. In Barcelona, after giving one impromptu news conference, the synchronized swimmer retreated to the comparative privacy of the athletes’ village and a closed training pool in order to concentrate on regaining her competitive focus.