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He was only 16 years old, and yet he was one of the fastest swimmers in the world.

He was an Olympic gold medalist, setting an Olympic record (4:00.26) in the 400-meter freestyle.It was 1972, and for Rick DeMont it was one of the highest moments in his life . . . and one of the lowest.

Shortly after standing on the winners' platform, the 1972 Munich Olympic gold medal dangling from his neck, Rick DeMont was devastated with the news that the International Olympic Committee was not only stripping him of his gold medal but banning him from competing in the 1,500-meter freestyle, an event in which DeMont was heavily favored to win another gold medal.

DeMont was told he was being punished because he had tested positive for a banned substance - ephedrine - a chemical that was in his prescribed asthma medicine, Marax.

He has been seeking justice ever since, even though IOC officials have made it clear they are not interested in dispensing justice or righting wrongs committed 24 years ago.

The IOC has twice rejected DeMont's appeals.

"The executive board feels these submissions are no cause for any change of the decision taken," said IOC Director General Francois Carrard in rejecting DeMont's appeal just two months ago.

"It is felt that even today, if the case were judged on the same facts, the decisions would most likely be the same. The IOC executive board is not a sort of court of appeal to reopen cases 24 years later."

But if the IOC can summarily exercise its power without proper investigation, if it can shred fairness, objectivity and the truth, if it can erase a 16-year-old's legitimate accomplishments, the time has come for a serious assault on the leadership of Mr. Carrard and his sycophants.

Especially as the United States prepares to host the 1996 Olympics, the outrage that the IOC perpetuates against DeMont can be seen for the obscenity that it is.

Here are the facts of the DeMont case:

1. DeMont was diagnosed as an asthmatic in 1959, and his prescribed medication did not enhance his performances in the pool but merely gave him an equal opportunity to compete against those who did not suffer from the same breathing difficulties.

2. After qualifying for the Munich Olympics, DeMont filled out the required administrative and medical forms for the U.S. Olympic Committee - properly disclosing his use of asthma medication.

3. No one ever told DeMont before the Olympics that his use of Marax (because of the ephedrine) was banned by the IOC.

4. DeMont suffered a serious asthma attack the day before he was to compete in Munich and took his medication in the prescribed dosage.

5. After winning the 400 meter freestyle, DeMont was not told that an IOC Medical Commission had convened to examine his testing positive for a banned substance. Apparently no American medical personnel, coach or USOC official has ever seen the actual DeMont urinalysis results and data.

6. DeMont was denied an opportunity to compete in the 1,500 freestyle event in which he was favored to win another gold medal.

7. Public attention regarding the DeMont case understandably evaporated when, on the morning of Sept. 2, 1972, terrorists entered the Olympic village and murdered 11 Israeli athletes.

8. A wide body of medical evidence indicates that ephedrine is not a performance-enhancing drug.

9. The ban on ephedrine within the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association was lifted permanently in the early 1980s as a result of vast scientific studies.

10. It is clear that DeMont was a world-class swimmer, with or without ephedrine. After the 1972 Olympics, DeMont returned to competition, using non-ephedrine medicine with the following results:

At the world championships in 1973 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, he won the 400-meter freestyle event, beating Brad Cooper (the silver medalist at Munich who subsequently received DeMont's gold medal) in world record time of 3:58.18. It was the first time any person in the world swam that distance under 4 minutes.

DeMont finished second in the 1,500-meter freestyle event in a time of 15:35.44, 17.14 seconds faster than the gold medal time at the 1972 Olympics that he was forbidden to swim.

Now a respected University of Arizona assistant swimming coach, DeMont has made one demand regarding the reinstatement of his gold medal - that gold medalist Brad Cooper be allowed to keep his medal. DeMont is seeking a listing in the Olympic archives showing both he and Cooper as co-winners of the 400-meter freestyle.

Such is the character of Rick DeMont. He is fair, honest, decent and deserving - all good things that the IOC has yet to become.