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Sunday, July 2, 2000

Clock ticks to Olympics

 Three Olympics ago -- Seoul 1988 to be precise -- Carol Anne Letheren had a nightmarish experience.

 It was in the middle of the night that she had to knock on Ben Johnson's door and ask him to return the gold medal he had won because drug tests showed he had used a banned substance prior to his 100-metre sprint.

 Letheren is a member of the IOC in Canada, the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Association, a former gymnast who learned early in life about balancing acts. In the 1988 Seoul Olympics she needed all that experience to deal with the Johnson case.

 The next day she had to face a battery of international media, all wanting to know details about the Ben Johnson debacle that turned the sprinter from hero to bum in a matter of 24 hours.

 Earlier this week, Letheren mentioned the Johnson incident, but was much more pleased to inform that a few days before departure for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Canadian athletes have had no drug problems.

 "Thank goodness our athletes are clean -- so far," said the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Association. "I hope it will remain that way until the end of the Games."

 To say that Carol Anne is busy these days would be an understatement. She's supervising all details of pre-Sydney arrangements, making sure that nothing is left to chance.

 "We'll have a big day on August 15 in Montreal," she said. "We'll have the announcement of the final team selection and the name of our flagbearer for the Games.

 "In conjunction with Roots, we'll introduce the team clothing, probably in one of Roots stores in downtown Montreal. Most of the equipment was shipped to Sydney two weeks ago and our staff will start leaving for Australia in mid-August."

 Among the material that still has to be shipped to Sydney are brochures about Canada Place, a home-away-from-home in Sydney for sponsors, parents of athletes and friends.

 Meanwhile, Team Canada captain, Sue Hylland, is criss-crossing the country in last-minute talks with athletes, coaches and parents of athletes.

 Hylland discussed the Sydney program with this group in the Vancouver and Calgary National Training Centres and between those cities covered about a third of the 2000 Olympic team.

 "In addition to all the activities, all of us are also busy selling a special edition Olympic pin," informed Letheren.

 "These pins cost $10 and serve as a fundraiser for the team."

 For the next couple of weeks, the Olympic staff has to sit back and watch Olympic trials in sports that didn't have them yet. Like track and field, for instance, which will hold the trials and team selection in mid-August.

 This, obviously, puts extra pressure on the COA staff as far as the preparation of last-minute brochures and team information sheets are concerned.

 But knowing the way the COA staff works, I have no doubt that they'll complete the task before the last plane lands at Sydney airport.

 That's the time when our athletes take over.