In 2010, Australian swimmer Nick D’Arcy was finally returning his life to normal. All of his suspensions were behind him, and he was (finally) allowed to represent Australia at International competition, where he capitalized by pulling silver at Pan Pacs behind Michael Phelps.
But now, his haunting past has reared its head again as D’Arcy has been sued in Australian court by former Australian Champion Simon Cowley.
For those who don’t know the story, while celebrating his appointment to the 2008 Olympic team, D’Arcy punched Cowley in the face. The altercation left Cowley with several facial fractures and over $40,000 in hospital bills.
Beyond that, Cowley says that he was forced to quit his job as a result of the attack. In Australia, where swimming is a highly-visible sport, he said he was constantly hounded by clients in his role with a financial firm. Imagine if Magic Johnson got in a fight with Kobe Bryant, and then tried to go sell insurance. That’s the equivalent to what Cowley was likely going through.
On the criminal count, D’Arcy pled guilty, and received a 14-month suspended sentence on the requisite of good behavior, but he certainly did not escape hard-time. He was subsequently removed from the 2008 Olympic team and, even after his Swimming Australia suspension was up, was not chosen for the 2009 World Championships either (some would argue unjustly).
But now Cowley is seeking punitive recovery to the tune of $750,000, with claims that besides the lost income and medical expenses, he’s undergone severe emotional torment and has had anxiety over going to crowded, public places (especially nightclubs and bars).
But for every story, there’s two sides. Despite pleading guilty to the criminal counts (in exchange for a lightened, suspended sentence), D’Arcy still maintains a claim of self-defense. He says that Cowley had approached him and slapped him on the face, and that D’Arcy (who stands under 6-feet tall) felt threatened by the approach of an unknown man who was bigger than him.
Cowley’s side portrays the same action as their man simply suggesting that D’Arcy calm down a little, as he was causing quite a scene.
It doesn’t sound like the two sides are disputing the facts of the case: both agree that Cowley tapped D’Arcy on the cheek, and that the two men didn’t know each other. Where the dispute comes into play seems to be a matter of whether D’Arcy’s reaction was excessive to a seemingly non-malicious action, and that will be a matter that is left up to a jury to decide.
It will be interesting to see how this affects D’Arcy. A few weeks ago, in Santa Clara, he became part of a rare-air of swimmers who have beaten Michael Phelps in the 200 fly over the last decade, though he looked really good in the runup to the 2010 Commonwealth Games as well. There, he failed to final despite being the top-seeded swimmer by two seconds. It’s not clear yet what D’Arcy’s taper meet will be this year, though a slim silver lining might be that he didn’t make Australia’s World Championship squad (yet, barring a fantastic swim at this week’s relay trials), and so he’ll be able to avoid the additional media coverage that comes from that.
Time spent in the courtroom is time lost from training, and the mental stress and anguish of old skeletons is not what he needs as he approaches his final preparations. The matter seems unlikely to be settled anytime soon, which means it will constantly be on his mind. We saw what the lifting of a legal dispute can do for a swimmer’s performances when American Jessica Hardy tore up the Maria Lenk Trophy the same week that she learned that the IOC had waived her suspension for the 2012 Olympics.
Perhaps a bigger question is whether or not D’Arcy will be able to continue his professional swimming career if the full judgement is awarded to Cowley. Though swimming in Australia undoubtedly more lucrative from a marketing perspective than it is in the United States, the reemergence of these old wounds will scare off sponsors at least in the short term, which will make it difficult for him to both fund his training and pay the debts.
It will be an interesting case to watch. Any pseudo-experts on Australian tort civil law?