PHOENIX – For decades, Shirley Babashoff stayed out of the public eye and away from everything that had to do with swimming and the Olympics.
That changed Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Committee Olympic Assembly luncheon, when Babashoff was awarded the Olympic Order by the International Olympic Committee. The award was established in 1974 to honor individuals who have “illustrated the Olympic ideals through actions, have achieved remarkable merit in the sporting world or have rendered outstanding services to the Olympic cause.”
It was believed to be Babashoff’s first return to the Olympic fold since she retired from swimming at 20, and just her second public appearance since she left the sport.
Babashoff, 48, has spent half her lifetime embittered by her experience at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, when she won a total of eight medals and accused the East German swimmers who beat her of doping.
She was ostracized by her sport and by the sporting public, who tabbed her a sore loser and nicknamed her “Surly Shirley.”
But decades later, she was proved right when former East German officials admitted to systematic doping of their women swimmers. In an emotional presentation Saturday, Babashoff received the award bestowed upon the likes of Alberto Tomba, Wayne Gretzky and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
“It fills in a part of the hole,” Babashoff said. “I feel that someone’s finally getting it. They’re actually acknowledging what I tried to accomplish. They realize the truth of it all.”
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