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Wednesday, August 23, 2000

There's only one first time

'It's weird. You go through all these levels of competitions and all of a sudden it's like, wow, I'm going to the Olympics.'


 I can't remember what the 10 stages of being a first-time Olympian are, exactly. But I'm pretty sure these kids are at Stage 6: Giddy.

 In all there are 18 Edmonton Olympians heading to Sydney for the Games of the XXVII Olympiad. People like Susan Nattrass, Tim Berrett, Eryn Bulmer and David Ford have been there before. There's only one first time.

 "I'm so excited I feel like crying,'' says table tennis first-time Olympian Wen Xiao Wang.

 "I've known I was going to Sydney since April. But I feel like I'm still dreaming. The closer it gets to going, the more it feels like I'm dreaming.''

 Stage 6 hits you at every turn.

 "I'll just be out driving in my car and ... I'll get excited. I'll tell myself I'm an Olympian. I'm going to Sydney,'' said runner Candice Jones. "It's surreal. It comes in waves.''

 When you are a first-time Olympian it's the magic carpet ride of your life.

 "I'm slow. It finally hit me last week,'' says cyclist Lori-Ann Muenzer. "I've known since July 9. But now that we're so close to leaving, I'm really starting to feel that nervous excitement.''

 Getting giddy is the part before you get on the plane.

 "This is just starting to sink in,'' says hammer-thrower Robin Lyons.

 "It's weird. You go through all these levels of competitions and all of a sudden it's like, wow, I'm going to the Olympics.''

 THE EYES HAVE IT

 I love talking to first-time Olympians the night before the opening ceremonies. Canada holds an event with the Canadian team, Canadian media and all the Canadians who are part of the so-called Olympic family. It's fun just to walk around that room and look into their eyes.

 The next day they'll be walking into a stadium with a crowd of 120,000 and a world-wide audience in the billions. It isn't something all that easy to be cool about, even if there are 311 athletes in the room trying to be cool about it.

 "I'm not going to be wearing any mascara for the opening ceremonies,'' says Jones. "I know I'm going to be very emotional.''

 She walked in the ceremonies of the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg. And she can't wait to walk in the opening ceremonies of Edmonton 2001. But the Olympics are the Olympics.

 "Sydney is going to be such a great experience. But I'm glad of the order the two events are going to be held. I think after Sydney, I'm going to get all tingly and goosebumpy about being a home-town girl competing at home in Edmonton 2001. It's going to be so special to walk in the ceremonies in Edmonton and look into the stands and see people I know.

 "They're just such different dynamics. But all I can think about right now is Sydney. The Olympics are the Olympics,'' says the trackster who has to wait until the final day of the Games to run in her event, the 4x400-metre relay.

 Lyons says she wants to keep her head on her shoulders because she believes her Olympic experience could springboard her to a medal at the Edmonton Worlds. But when it comes to the opening ceremonies ...

 "It's going to be a powerful experience,'' she says. "My knees are going to be weak.''

 Wang says her knees worry her, too.

 "Maybe I'll get so nervous I can't walk.''

 Wang, Lyons, Jones and Muenzer were among the Edmonton Olympians on hand at City Hall yesterday to help introduce "The Sydney Experience" www.edmontonsport.com Web site for fans to get to know our 18 Olympians and the 10 Paralympians who will make their own trip to Sydney a month later.

 WEB SITE LAUNCH

 It's a terrific way to relate to race-walker Berrett, diver Bulmer, kayaker Ford, softball's Nathalie Fradette, rowing's Andrew Hoskins, swimmers Morgan Knabe, Shamek Pietucha, Mike McWha and Mark Versfeld, Jones, Lyons, Muenzer, trapshooting's Nattrass, synchro swimming's Kirstin Normand and Wang.

 These are the young men and women who will bring home "The Sydney Experience." They used to be the girls and guys next door. Now they're Olympians.

 As they get past giddy they'll get what is really happening to them here. Their perspiration has made them an inspiration. Here's to the Edmonton Sports Council for understanding the concept.