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Sunday, June 18, 2000

Sarnia's Abbott should place in top 5
To ask Paul Henderson to discuss sailing is like prompting Elizabeth Taylor to talk about marriages.

Henderson eats, sleeps and talks sailing.

He is one of the leading members of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto and current president of the International Sailing Federation, the world's governing sailing organization.

"Have you got a couple of hours?" he asked when I inquired about the latest news in sailing.

When I replied in the affirmative, his words came cascading down like Niagara Falls on a sunny day. Small wonder -- he's very familiar with water, having sailed in the 1964 Tokyo and 1968 Mexico City Olympics and having coached the Canadian team in the 1972 Olympics at Kiel, Germany.

"At one time the Americans won all sailing events in the Olympics," said Henderson.

"That has changed. In Savannah during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where 30 medals were available and they were shared by 22 countries. It was the first time that Hong Kong and Japan won medals. Obviously sailing has broadened its horizon."

He took a deep breath, his eyes became more focused and he said with great pride in his voice when discussing Canada's chances at the Sydney Olympics next September:

"This time Canada has a shot for at least two medals. We have two genuine superstars in Richard Clarke of Toronto Island in the Finn Class and in Vancouver's Ross MacDonald in the Star Boat Class. In the last world championships Clarke was third out of 120 boats.

"MacDonald and his crew--Tyler Bjorn of Montreal -- are at the top of their game and are recognized as the best in the world.

Incidentally, Bjorn played CFL football for the Montreal Alouettes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers."

If Henderson was proud of the Canadians in the two events, he's just as proud of Carrol Ann Alie of Ottawa in the women's board sailing, a sport in which women in their late 20s are considered washed up.

Alie is in her 40s, with a good shot at finishing in the top 10 at Sydney.

He also gives Bill Abbott of Sarnia a chance of placing in the top five in the Soling Class.

The Canadian team will be one of the smallest representing the maple leaf in Olympic Games because of stringent qualifying rules set out by the Canadian Olympic Association, which in itself is not a bad idea.

Henderson figures that Canadians who have been competing in Toronto will have an advantage in Sydney.

"I would have trained in Toronto if I was chosen to compete at Sydney," he said.

"The water in Toronto Bay is flat, with shifty winds. Sydney Harbour is the same."

Then, with typical Henderson humour, he added:

"I don't think our sailors will have problems with sharks, because the triathlon takes place before our events and by the the time the sailing starts, the sharks will have been well fed."

Henderson doesn't have to fear sharks anyway. As boss of Olympic sailing, he'll be patrolling the course in a 120-foot luxury boat. Even IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch won't have a larger boat at his disposal.