INDIANAPOLIS -- Michelle Griglione touched the sparkling silver Pan American Games medal that had just been placed around her neck and felt so unfulfilled. She thought she was going to win much more -- and a year ago, it made sense. Now, here she was, finishing second in a swimming meet she never thought she'd have to settle for, and all she could think about was how to start the long road back to being an Olympic contender.

"This has been torture," Griglione said. "I've told myself to come here, to swim my best, and just try to live through this week. Now it's over and I can go home and get started coming back."

Last year at this time, Griglione, who lives in Alexandria, was a sure bet for stardom somewhere. If not the just-completed Pan Pacific championships in Australia, then certainly the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Her times in her specialities -- the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys -- were the second and third best in the world in 1986. She was the most decorated swimmer at the U.S. short-course national championships last year. She was headed to Stanford to study engineering and to swim. She was so happy. How could she fail?

But she did. In her first few months of college, Griglione gained about 12 pounds, to 150. (She is back to 139 now.) Her college training regiment was less intense than what she was used to back in Washington. All of a sudden, she was swimming three, four, five seconds slower than the times she was used to. At the national championships three weeks ago, she finished sixth in both individual medleys.

Griglione didn't qualify for the Pan Pacifics; she had to win or finish second to do that. She qualified only for the U.S. "B" team and a trip here by coming in fourth in the 200-meter butterfly, hardly her specialty. She won the silver medal Saturday night in that event with a time of 2 minutes 15.03 seconds, four seconds slower than her best time. U.S. teammate Kara McGrath won in 2:12.54.

When she stepped up to the second rung of the medal stand at the Indiana University Natatorium, wearing her U.S.A. sweats, she smiled and waved politely. She breathed deeply and looked proud when her anthem was played, in honor of McGrath's victory. Griglione made a pleasant picture, but her mind was miles away, trying to figure out how to regain her once lofty position.

"I kept thinking, 'Now, get back down off this stand and go,' " she said. "I don't have any time to lose. I have to get back to where I was. And then I have to get better."

Griglione just turned 18. She is much too young, it seems, to already have gone through a major life crisis and come out better for it. It remains to be seen if her new resolve drops seconds off her 200 and 400 IM times and gets her to the Olympics next fall. But she is talking -- and thinking -- a whole new game.

When she pulled herself out of the pool after her "fiasco" in the 400 IM at the nationals, she made a snap decision: She wasn't going to go back to Stanford for her sophomore year this fall. A model student with credits to spare, she will sit out a year but plans to go back and still graduate on time with her class in 1990.

"I started writing postcards to my friends, and I couldn't write, 'See you next month,' " Griglione said after Saturday's race. "That was sad, but, in the days after my decision, I had no doubts at all. That's how you can tell if you did the right thing. In my heart, I know it's so right."

Griglione's plans are quite simple. She went home over the weekend to stay -- to live with her parents, to get back into the shape she wants to be in, to lift weights and take aerobics classes, as well as a community college course or two. She plans to swim at the Alexandria YMCA, under the watchful eye of her coach, John Flanagan.

There will be no vacations, she said. There will be only work, one solid year of it, trying to make the U.S. Olympic team.

"I am so excited about this year," she said. "I have everything all planned out. I know it's very cocky to say, 'I know I can win the gold,' but if I swim and train the way I'm planning to, I think it's a real good possibility."

Griglione is not the first championship swimmer to put on weight, make new friends in college and flounder in the pool. She also is not the first to re-dedicate herself to swimming. There's a reason why.

"Once you've done those times, once you've proven how good you are, you tell yourself you can do them again," she said. "If I had never done them, then it might be different. But I know I can do them, because I did them once. That's why I'm not giving up."

In Indianapolis, Griglione kept up with news from the Pan Pacific championships, reading the names of her friends and familiar competitors and the times they swam. It's not that she didn't enjoy the atmosphere here, because she did. Any U.S. athlete has to love the adoration of the crowds in this city. She also relished the opportunity to go through a dry run of an Olympic-type competition, to "stay in the picture," as she put it.

"If this had to happen to me, it was a perfect year for it to happen," she said. "Last year were the world championships {she finished second in the 400 IM} and next year are the Olympics."

But Griglione also found herself wanting to break away from Indianapolis, because her expectations for this summer had been so much greater.

"I'm not happy, but I have no one to blame but myself," she said. "I did it to myself; I had a great time in college. In that kind of situation, you don't realize what's happening until it's happening. I was 150 pounds and saying, 'Oh my God, look what I've eaten today.'

"So that's over, and I move on. I am so excited. Things will only get better."

Doug Lewis, 25, a bantamweight from Silver Spring, Md., and a graduate of Howard University, won a gold medal in the taekwondo competition . . .

Canadian Joe Ng, only seven months out of chemotherapy for cancer, won the gold medal in table tennis Sunday night by defeating Sean O'Neill of McLean, Va. Ng said he feels he has regained 90 percent of his strength since the February treatment, and is hopeful he has been cured.