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Sunday, September 10, 2000

What's cookin', Diane?

 SYDNEY - Diane Jones Konihowski is in her element. But she's not in the kitchen.

 "You wouldn't believe the conversations I had back home about being Canada's chef de mission,'' she laughs. "I had one woman who asked me 'So what's your specialty?'

 "Others kind of have that glazed look in their eye.''

 Just in case you, too, are confused ...

 "I'm no cook. I don't bake,'' she says.

 "Catching me in the kitchen is a Kodak moment.''

 Jonesy, as her husband and former Edmonton Eskimos receiver John Konihowski still calls her, knows all about 'if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,' however.

 Twenty years ago the golden girl of the 1978 Commonwealth Games didn't go to the Moscow Olympics because of the boycott. She was the most out-spoken Canadian athlete.

 A three-time Olympian, she had a shot at gold and was considered a favorite to win a medal. She was ranked No. 2 in the world that year in the pentathlon.

 Two weeks after the Moscow Olympics, at an event in Germany, she beat the gold and silver medallists from the Olympics.

 Would she have beaten them at the Games?

 "I'll never know,'' she said.

 Her one regret is that she didn't take advantage of the opportunity and say to hell with Canada and be the one Canadian to compete in the Moscow Olympics with other unattached athletes from boycotting nations around the world. But she backed down.

 "I gave in to all the hate mail and the death threats,'' she said. "I'm a much braver person today.''

 She'll always remember the phone call. She was training in New Zealand at the time. The call came from Corey Elliott of CFRN-TV in Edmonton.

 "He asked me what I thought of it. 'Thought of what?' I said. Then he told me. `Canada is boycotting the Moscow Olympics.' ''

 She did all the interviews back then and spoke from the heart. It wasn't what a lot of people wanted to hear.

 She had death threats.

 "First my dream had been taken away. I was in the best shape of my life. I thought I could win the gold medal. And then I not only lost that but people turned on me. They turned on John. People in the stands called us 'communist lovers.' Hugh Campbell was great. The Eskimos were great. But there are a lot of kooks out there. For a while, we feared for our safety.''

 That was then. This is now.

 Does this make up for it?

 "No,'' she says. "It can't. Nothing can change that. But Moscow is so long ago. I had a great career. And this is wonderful.

 "It's going to be a tremendous experience. I feel honored and privileged,'' says the now-Calgary-based former athlete who holds Canadian, Commonwealth and Pan-Am records and would be the obvious choice for any torch-lighting, flag-raising ceremonies for Edmonton 2001.

 Jones Konihowski, who will be in Edmonton a lot in the next few years to watch daughter Janna on the University of Alberta volleyball team, has always had Games in her blood.

 Jones Konihowski competed in the first Canada Winter Games - in volleyball. She also competed in the first Canada Games, period, back in 1967 where she won Saskatchewan's only gold medal.

 In all, including Olympics, Commonwealth, Pan-Am, Universiade, etc., she competed in 16 major international games.

 "I guess I've kind of come full circle,'' she says, and then laughs.

 "You know something? I can't remember any of the chefs.''

 Talk to the athletes here and they're going to remember her. She's gone out of her way to meet every single athlete and member of the support staff.

 "In all, there are 550 Canadians that are part of the Sydney Olympics,'' she said.

 Including media?

 "I'd never have taken the job if I had to be responsible for you guys,'' she laughed again.

 Her job is to provide the best possible environment for them to be successful and to enjoy this incredible moment in their lives for all it is worth.

 It wasn't always like that for Jones Konihowski when she competed.

 "Sport is a better place now,'' she says. "Things have changed. We're not just talking the talk, we're walking the walk when it comes to the athletes. We're doing a better job.''

 Chefs have made medal predictions in the past but she's not going to do that.

 "These young men and women have enough pressure on them. They don't need Diane Jones Konihowski telling them how many medals they have to win.

 And they definitely don't need her to whip them something up for supper.