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Sunday, August 13, 2000

New kid on the blocks

Teen whiz qualifies for Canadian Olympic 100-metre squad


 VICTORIA - Nicolas Macrozonaris.

 It takes you longer to pronounce his name than it took the kid to become a stunning, out-of-nowhere, going-to-the-Olympics great Canadian sports story here yesterday.

 Nicolas Macrozonaris.

 Or "Nicolas M'' as Donovan Bailey called the kid who qualified for the Sydney Olympic 100 metres with a time of 10.19 here yesterday, to join Bruny Surin and Bailey. Nicolas Macrozonaris.

 He's 19 years old. MACROZONARIS

 He's in his second year of track.

 He just ran out and identified himself as somebody to take over when Bailey and Surin retire.

 "It's a huge deal,'' said Bailey of the 10.19 the Montreal native ran in the semi-final to join Canada's two international stars in the 100-metre show in Sydney.

 "Man, this is what we want. This is what we're looking for. This is the legacy Bruny and I want to leave - good young people coming up and running fast. I'm retired next year. I'm done. I want to show up to the Canadian championships when I'm done and see Canadian guys running 9.9 and guys like Nicolas M who want to win.

 "It's huge. This kid is 19 and he just ran a 10.19. Get him with someone who understands the art of sprinting and he's going to run 9.9s. This is very big.

 "And there you go - a white guy for you guys,'' Bailey joked.

 For the longest time yesterday, Macrozonaris didn't know his Olympic fate.

 While only Surin and Bailey had run under the 10.24 Olympic qualifying time before the event, Brad McCuaig of Calgary finished second (to Surin's season-best 10.05) with a time of 10.18 in the final. Pierre Browne of Mississauga and Macrozonaris tied for third, running 10.25 in the final.

 But the wind was up to 2.2 metres per second in the final. That's .2 over the limit. It goes down as 'wind aided' and doesn't count.

 With three Canadians the limit for the 100 metres and only three having thus met the qualifying time, Surin, Bailey and Macrozonaris are in the 100 metres in Sydney.

 But will Macrozonaris make it on the 4 x 100 metre relay team?

 McCuaig is 10 years older than Macrozonaris and nine years older than Browne. He's hardly the "future.'' But these are the Olympics. They're about now.

 Glenroy Gilbert was fifth in the final, running 10.30, and hasn't done anything better than a wind-aided 10.24 this year. But he's the glue of the 4 x 100 metre group and you know Bailey and Surin will want him in the group.

 However it all works out, Macrozonaris was the story yesterday.

 "He's an awesome, young, talented kid,'' said Olympic track coach Brent MacFarlane. "He has no fear. He's a blessing. And very important next year is that the World Championships are in Edmonton and we have a whole group of young people,'' said Athletics Canada president John Thresher. "What you saw today was the future.

 Macrozonaris didn't get a free trip to Victoria. "My mom and dad paid for me to come here,'' said the kid who managed a previous best of 10.38, although he had a few wind-aided times better than that.

 "I don't know what to say,'' he raved.

 "I don't believe it. I'm speechless. I can hardly even talk. "What a beautiful day for a breakthrough. It's a dream come true.''

 Macrozonaris never intended to be a trackster. He tried all sorts of sports.

 "I've been so fast at all the sports they called me Ben Johnson,'' said the kid whose Greek father Spiro is a mechanic and electrician on ships, and whose French-Canadian mother Doris works at a Montreal hotel.

 "I've been doing track for two years. I don't go out with friends. I don't do anything,'' he said of his dedication.

 Macrozonaris says he understands what it means to run a 10.19 at the age of 19.

 "The sky is the limit,'' he said.

 "When I'm 23 to 25 . . .''

 Indeed. When he's 23 he can run in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Can you imagine the story a kid with the handle Macrozonaris could write at an Olympics in Athens, Greece?

 The Greek White Hope.