SEARCH 2000 Games

Sunday, September 17, 2000

Canada going against tide

Swim team facing long road back

  SYDNEY -- Everything was positive for the Canadian swim team after Day 1 of competition. Positively unspectacular.

 Team star Joanne Malar, one of the few medal possibilities for Canada in the pool, finished a disappointing seventh in the women's 400-metre individual medley.

 The women's 4x100 metre freestyle relay team placed an eye-glazing seventh in the final.

 The men's 4x100 freestyle squad didn't qualify for the final.

 How the mighty have fallen. A decade or so ago, the Canadian team gave Australia a run for its money in the pool. Comparisons between the Commonwealth nations now are laughable.

 The Aussies, who recorded four world records yesterday -- Ian Thorpe in the men's 400-metre freestyle (3:40.59) and 200-metre freestyle (1:46.71), Michael Klim in the 100-metre lead leg of the relay (48.18) and the women's 4x100 relay squad (3:13.67) -- have become a swim superpower. Canada, meanwhile, will be lucky to win one swimming medal at these Games.

 "How long have you got for me to talk about it?" said Don Talbot, head coach of the Australian team, when asked if he could dissect Canada's problems.

 "I can't give you a quick answer," he said. "These things happen sometimes and you've always got to stop and rethink your program. We do that a lot in Australia."

 Talbot was run out of Canada as the team's head coach in the late 1980s, reportedly for being too tough. The split was rife with acrimony and anger. More than a decade later, he has led Australia to the aquatic promised land. It seems his no-nonsense approach is just what the then-stagnant Aussie program needed.

 But Talbot refused to dwell on his former team's misfortunes.

 "I'm not going to criticize people who are my colleagues," he said. "We're in the sport and it's hard. I know what it's like not to perform at your best. There are bad times to go through, but if you keep going at it, good times will come.

 "We're just fortunate, touch wood," Talbot said, hitting his own head. "We're getting some good times."

 All was not gloom and doom for Canada in the water. Edmonton teenager Morgan Knabe used a gutsy performance in the semis to qualify for the men's 100-metre breaststroke final in one minute 1.70 seconds.

 Donning an old T-shirt worn by deceased Canadian swim star Victor Davis at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Knabe demonstrated that, perhaps, the Canadian program isn't completely void of promise. Never one to sugar-coat his thoughts, Knabe had set his sights on winning a medal earlier this morning.

 "My coach (Jan Bidrman) said, 'Show me something that's going to make me shiver, something that's going to make me crap my pants,' " the colourful 19-year-old said.

 "All I need is a lane. It's the Olympics and anything is going to happen."

 When asked what he thought of the 17,500 screaming fans at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre, Knabe said: "I felt my nuts jump into the back of my throat."