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Friday, September 3, 1999
PROFILE: Caroline Brunet
It's c'est la vie for kayak queen


Back in December 1997, while sports fans across the country weighed the relative merits of Jacques Villeneuve and Larry Walker as Canada's top athlete, triple world champion kayak racer Caroline Brunet was asked if she felt snubbed to have been excluded from the debate.

Brunet -- a finalist that year for the Lou Marsh Award won by Villeneuve -- responded with a laugh that journalists deserve to hear after posing ridiculous questions.

"It might have been an honour I deserved, but I've never associated being known by the public or media with success," Brunet said shortly after becoming the first woman and only the second paddler to sweep the 200-, 500- and 1,000-metre events at a world championships. "Most journalists can't understand how hard my sport is, but if I were the type of person who worried about stuff like that, I could never get to where I am."

She has come a long way in the two years since speaking those words, but the attitude hasn't changed.

Wednesday night, after flying into Montreal from Milan, Italy, with medals from another golden sweep and a silver from the pairs with Karen Furneaux of Waverley, N.S., Brunet was laughing about lack of recognition and looking forward to a month of rest. Last year it was two golds and a silver, just missing the sweep with a loss in the 1,000.

"Kayaks and canoes are part of our history and maybe we've forgotten our history," the first Canadian woman to win a world title in the sport said. "The sport is so much (bigger) in Europe than Canada. In Venice, the waiter in a restaurant recognized me and was excited. In Hungary, it's the national sport."

In fact, it was beating Hungarian Rita Koban last weekend that made the 1999 sweep most satisfying. "The last time we raced she just beat me at the finish (at the 1996 Olympics). Since then I've been working on my finish."

Brunet, of Lac Beauport, Que., also has made progress off the water since '96. She was so wound up in the year leading up to Atlanta, her silence rubbed media the wrong way.

Heck, she wouldn't even speak with her mother.

"In 1996, I wasn't used to (being a medal favourite)," Brunet, 30, said with newfound comfort in English. "I didn't want to try getting used to it at an Olympics. It's the same as racing, it's all about experience."

She also is a lot more approachable for other team members, even though she still trains under Danish coach Christian Frederiksen. A few years back, she wouldn't consider racing anything other than K-1, but the three-time Olympian has taken Furneaux, 23, under her wing and the pair just missed beating a Polish duo by 2-10ths of a second last Sunday.

She won't get a crack at the sweep in the Olympics, where women get to race only 500 metres. That means the worth of Brunet's feats will be left for the community of human-powered racing enthusiasts to debate.

Some people from other Olympic racing sports have taken a special interest in Brunet, some calling her sweeps nearly impossible, others comparing it to a 100-metre runner also winning the 800 and 1,500.

Brunet said it's tough combining sprints with endurance racing. "But I'll be honest, a lot more people run track. You should never really compare sports."

Of course, journalists again will do just that in December, when it comes time to pick athletes of the year.

Should Brunet be considered?

"It doesn't matter," she said with a laugh. "It won't affect my training. It won't affect me for Sydney."
Caroline Brunet in the news
Brunet shows good form
Brunet powers into a pair of finals
Brunet tabbed as golden girl of Canada's team
Brunet in pictures
The flag bearer
On the podium
Gold in '97
Sponsorship deal
Waving the flag
A flag & a team
In profile