SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ She wants to be alone.
Track star Marie-Jose Perec, the reclusive 1996 gold medalist dubbed the ``Greta Garbo of athletics,″ pulled out of the Olympics after she was threatened by a man who burst into her Sydney hotel room, according to her main sponsor.
``Because of this unfortunate incident, Marie-Jose has decided to withdraw from competition,″ Denise Kaigler, a spokeswoman for Reebok, said Thursday (Wednesday night EDT).
She provided no further details on the incident involving ``an unidentified man.″ Perec, 32, had left Sydney for an undisclosed location, Kaigler said.
Perec, who suffers from a rare disease causing chronic fatigue, had surprised French Olympic officials by disappearing from her hotel room. Since arriving in Sydney, she had dodged the media and refused to train with the French team; the Australian press quickly compared her to the ultra-private Garbo.
Perec was the defending champion in the 200 and 400 meters, making her only the second women ever to complete that double.
Atlanta medalist Donovan Bailey may join Perec on the sidelines, although that wouldn’t be his choice. A viral infection had greatly slowed the one-time world’s fastest man.
``He’s congested, he’s not feeling well,″ Bailey’s agent, Ray Flynn, said Thursday morning (Wednesday night EDT). ``He’s not feeling 100 percent by any means. He’s got flu-like symptoms.″
Competition in the 100 meters begins Friday, and Bailey was hopeful that he could be ready.
``I’ve been in bed for two days,″ Bailey said. ``Psychologically, I’m very strong. But it’s the physical thing I have to deal with.″
_ SWIMMING: The Americans continued to treat the Olympic pool like a U.S. water park.
Brooke Bennett, the gold medalist in 1996, was top qualifier in the preliminaries Thursday (Wednesday night EDT) in the 800-meter freestyle. A victory in Friday’s 800 final would put her with Janet Evans (1988, 1982) as the only back-to-back winners in the grueling event.
Bennett has already won Sydney gold in the 400 freestyle.
Gary Hall Jr. of Phoenix qualified second in the preliminaries of the 50 freestyle, just 14 hours after winning bronze in the 100 free. The field in the race was loaded, with two-time defending champion Alexander Popov of Russia, Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands and fellow American Anthony Ervin.
The qualifiers came after longshot Misty Hyman and relay team anchor Jenny Thompson won gold medals in record times for the American swimmers one night earlier.
For Thompson, the 800-meter freestyle relay victory catapulted her into rarified Olympic company. Her seven golds are more than any woman swimmer, snapping a tie with Germany’s Kristin Otto.
Thompson, 27, who also has a silver in her career, tied Czech Republic gymnast Vera Caslavaska for the second-most Olympic golds by a woman. With teammates Samantha Arsenault, Diana Munz and Lindsay Benko, she established an Olympic record of 7 minutes, 57.80 seconds.
The 21-year-old Hyman shocked defending champion Susie O’Neill of Australia to win the 200 butterfly. Hyman shocked herself, too; upon seeing her Olympic-record time, she repeatedly said, ``Oh my God! Oh my God!″
Amid the red, white and blue celebration, the orange-clad fans of the Netherlands had reason to cheer as a Dutchman nicknamed ``Hoogie″ turned some of the world’s top swimmers into mere blowfish.
Pieter van den Hoogenband won gold in the 100 freestyle in 48.30 seconds, whipping two-time defending gold medalist Alexander Popov of Russia. Popov settled for silver and American Gary Hall Jr. took the bronze.
Van den Hoogenband became the first man to sweep the 100 and 200 freestyles since American Mark Spitz in 1972.
_ BASEBALL: Doug Mientkiewicz’s eighth-inning grand slam gave the United States a 4-0 victory over South Korea, the fourth straight victory for the Americans.
The American victory followed the Netherlands’ stunning 4-2 victory over the Cuba, ending the Cubans’ 21-game Olympic winning streak.
_ WOMEN’S SOCCER: Next stop for the U.S. women: the Olympic semifinals. The Americans took step No. 1 toward defending their 1996 gold medal by defeating Nigeria 3-1 to finish first in their half of the draw.
World Cup heroine Brandi Chastain opened the U.S. scoring, with Kristine Lilly and Shannon MacMillan adding the other goals. On Sunday, the women will face Brazil in one game; Norway and Germany will battle in the other semifinal.
China, the other finalist in the 1999 World Cup, was eliminated by a surprising 2-1 loss to Norway.
_ SOFTBALL: There was a little drama left over for the women’s softball team, too _ but not the kind it liked.
For the second straight game, the once-invincible Americans lost in extra innings, this time 2-0 to China in 14 innings. Michele Smith set an Olympic record with 21 strikeouts, but it wasn’t enough.
Zhang Chunfang lined a single off Smith’s leg to score one run and second baseman Jennifer McFalls threw wide of first, allowing the other runner to come all the way around.
Before the back-to-back losses, the softball team had won 112 consecutive games.
_ CYCLING: Tears streamed down Marty Nothstein’s face as he hugged his wife and children. The cyclist from Trexlertown, Pa., captured a gold medal in the men’s match sprint, the first American cycling gold since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Nothstein swept the first two races in his best-of-3 showdown with Florian Rousseau of France, who took the silver. Nothstein showed no emotion until he raised his hands in victory after securing first place.
_ MEN’S GYMNASTICS: No good news for the U.S. team in the men’s all-around competition. As Russia’s Alexei Nemov won the gold, the top American finisher was five-time national champion Blaine Wilson _ and he finished eighth.
The United States hasn’t won an all-around medal since Peter Vidmar’s silver in 1984.
_ WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL: The Americans won their third straight, 25-19, 25-18, 25-16 over Croatia, to put themselves in prime position for a medal run. The Americans, with two preliminary games left, could wind up in one of the top two spots in the quarterfinals.