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Germany

Ruthless Olympic Pursuit Stirs Animosity in German Swim Team

It may have been a victory for the rule book and for those who preach the following of the law to the letter, but German swimmer Vipa Bernhardt will certainly not win any team building prizes in the near future.

Anne Poleska and Vipa Bernhardt

Poleska (left) took the Olympic slot but Bernhardt took the case to court -- and won

Bernhardt came out victorious in her court case to have compatriot swimmer Anne Poleska dumped from the German Olympic team on Tuesday, July 15 after pursuing a tenuous legal thread in a bid to supplant her on the squad.

The court injunction, heard by the state court in Kassel late on Monday, forced the German National Olympic Committee (DOSB) to scratch Poleska -- who finished second in the qualifying trial -- in favor of third-placed Bernhardt, much to the chagrin of DOSB president Thomas Bach.

Bernhardt finished third in the 200 meters breaststroke at the German national championships in April, just failing to get a top two spot needed to make the team for Beijing.

Rather than graciously facing the fact that she had come up just short, Bernhardt ruthlessly exposed a footnote law within the rules of the German championships to force the hand of the DOSB.

Rival Poleska accused of breaking club rules

Anne Poleska

Poleska says she didn't race as a club member in the US

The court in Kessel heard that Poleska -- a born-and-bred German, a national champion and Olympic bronze medalist from Athens 2004 -- had previously raced for the Coral Springs swimming club in Florida and not a German club.

German swimming federation rules allow athletes to compete for foreign college or school swimming teams but not foreign clubs.

"I've never seen anything like this before -- an athlete trying to box her way onto the team because of a technicality, a mistake by a colleague," Bach told reporters.

Poleska said she had done nothing wrong and was not a member of any club when she swam in the Florida meets.

"I see my position as crystal clear from a legal point of view," she said. "I'm not afraid at all that I'll miss the Olympics."

Germany's Olympic swimming coach Orjan Madsen was also sure that Poleska and not Bernhardt would be representing Germany in Beijing.

"'The fact is that Anne was nominated by the DOSB and already has her Olympic team clothes that she'll be traveling to Beijing in," he said.

Michael Wolski, a lawyer and chairman of Bernhardt's club SG Frankfurt which filed the legal challenge on her behalf, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he had presented documents showing Poleska took part in 10 club meets for Coral Springs.

"I cannot imagine she did not know the rules," Wolski was quoted by the paper as saying. "Everyone knows those rules."

This is not the first time that national German law has stood in the way of a fair outcome as viewed from a sporting perspective. Former GDR swimmer Astrid Strauss was banned for failing a doping test, but continued to race inside a reunified Germany after her international ban because a judge decided it only fair.

Bernhardt's inclusion could lead to more court action

Vipa Bernhardt

Bernhardt can expect little support in the German team

An executive board meeting will decide on July 20 if another swimmer will be pushed out of the German team by the decision forced by Bernhardt's undeserved Olympic selection. If this were to happen, Bernhardt could well expect to spend more time in court than in the pool as the board's decision would surely be the subject of a legal claim by the displaced swimmer.

If Bernhardt does fly to Beijing, it's unlikely that she will be welcomed with open arms by the rest of the squad, especially those on the swimming team who will know that the third-best, and not second best, swimmer made the team and after a dirty legal challenge that went against all unwritten rules of sportsmanship.

More drama could follow if she is allowed in the squad. Olympic rules state that each country can only field two 200 meter breaststroke competitors. With Bernhardt making it three, she could cause further ill-feeling by getting the nod ahead of one of the other swimmers. What is more likely in this scenario is that Bernhardt will be forced to sit on the bench.

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