‘I was a dangerous person’: Casey Legler on life as a teenage Olympian – and raging alcoholic

At 19, Legler broke the Olympic freestyle swimming record. But she was also an alcoholic and drug dealer who had suffered years of abuse from her trainers. She is surprised she is still alive, she says

One day, when she was a teenager, Casey Legler woke up with a hangover, then jumped into a pool and broke the Olympic freestyle swimming record. The year was 1996 and Legler was in Atlanta, a member of the French team, having a practice session as she awaited the Olympic finals the next day. Legler, at 6ft 2in, was built to swim. She had been groomed to be an Olympian from the age of 12. But when the finals came – the biggest day of her professional life – she bombed, coming 29th in the women’s 50m freestyle. She spent the next day drunk and dealing cocaine – to Olympic teammates and teenage members of other international teams.

That is perhaps the most troubling aspect of Legler’s new memoir, which charts her time as one of the fastest female swimmers in the world. This isn’t just the story of an alcoholic girl who, under the supposedly protective wing of coaches and doctors, was sexually abused and given performance-enhancing drugs. It’s how her experience was not unusual among her female peers. She remembers, for instance, a teenage member of the English Olympic team asking her to buy drugs. Alcohol and drug use, she says, were commonplace among top-level child athletes, not just in celebratory post-competition blow-outs but every night. From the age of 12, “I swam for every chance to get wasted,” she writes.

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