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Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Gals with a glow...

Our sassy women's water polo team has a great shot at gold


 SYDNEY- The world won't be watching.

 When Canada marches into the opening ceremonies, they'll be back at the Olympic Village having their own personal parade.

 "We're going to wear our parade uniforms and march up the street and down the street in the village,'' says captain Cora Campbell.

 "It's something we all decided to do. We want to march in the opening ceremonies but we know we can't. So we're going to get a Canadian flag and march around the village.''

 Marching in the opening ceremonies is a dream of almost every first-time Olympian. The only thing better is standing on the podium with your eyes wet, the national anthem playing and your flag being raised to the roof. And the Canadian women's water polo team figures by not experiencing the former they might experience the latter.

 "We play the next day,'' said Campbell. "Not just the next day, but the next five straight days.''

 The IOC has been very kind to Canada in recent years. Every time they add a new sport it seems to be one we're good at.

 A SHOT AT THE PODIUM

 We're good at women's water polo. Very good.

 Canada could win gold.

 "We're telling them they can win a medal,'' says coach Daniel Berthelette. "We're just not telling them which colour. We know we have a shot at the podium. We've beaten every team here.''

 The U.S., Australia, Russia, Holland and Kazakhstan are the other countries that qualified. Canada meets Russia on Day 1.

 It's no slam dunk.

 "The difference between the teams here is a goal and maybe 20 seconds of play during the game,'' says the coach.

 "It's going to be like seven games of the Stanley Cup. I think every game could be a one-goal difference. I think every game could go down to the last minute.''

 Interesting team, this Team Canada.

 A nude Waneek Horn-Miller is the cover girl on the Olympic issue of the Canadian edition of Time magazine.

 A Mohawk and daughter of activist Kahn-Tineta Horn, she's easily the best known of the Canadians as a result of the role she played at Oka, Que..

 She was stabbed with a Canadian soldier's bayonet during the land rights battle.

 The photograph of her holding her four-year-old sister Kanietinio, crying and covered in blood, was the freeze frame of the ugly event.

 "The bayonet hit me right on my sternum,'' she remembered at a water polo press conference here yesterday. "A centimetre either way and I would have died.

 "But I've always believed that with every experience you have to take the positive out of it. You can use the negative ones to make you stronger. I got an education in political science to understand why that happened. It showed me my life is important and I need to do something with it. It fine-tuned me.''

 Posing nude on the cover of Time?

 "The first thing is to be asked to be on the cover ... I'm very honoured. Any time you do that you have to be thinking about it a lot. I talked to my family and my teammates and they were all for it. They were very proud of me.

 "Some of the coaches were saying if it happened at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, it would be a scandal. But in this day and age, people are viewing the body as a strong, powerful thing.

 '`There are two people nude in that magazine. Maybe in Athens at the next Olympics everybody is going to be nude.''

 The other nude in the magazine is Edmonton kayak world champion David Ford.

 While she is going to be the media darling throughout this event, she's not the only interesting woman on this team.

 Marie-Claude Deslieres, 34, of Montreal, for example, is a mother of three. Then there's Josee Marsolais of Laval who is said to be the greatest goalie in the world.

 But none of them are nude on the cover of Time.

 "I wouldn't shave my legs,'' said coach Berthelette of why he isn't on the cover.

 They have a lot of basketball-sized ladies on this team.

 But the coach says by water polo standards, size is not their forte.

 "We have a small team. We're fast. And we're quick. We have good goaltending and good defence and good speed.

 "We're ready to rock and roll,'' said the coach who had them playing against men's teams to prepare, with specific men's players informed of traits of certain players and asked to play the part.

 "We played the whole schedule,'' said the coach. "We said 'OK, you guys are Russia and you have to be No. 11 from Russia.' It helped the girls get their minds ready.''

 GOOD GOALTENDING KEY

 Ready or not, here they come.

 "We're going into the Olympics trying very hard to treat it like a normal tournament when, in fact, we know it's not,'' says Marsolais.

 She says being a goalie in water polo at the Olympics is like being a goalie in hockey. You have to have good goaltending to win the Stanley Cup.

 "When we beat the U.S., their coach Guy Baker came up to me and told me, 'You're the one who made the difference','' she said, indicating she'd like to hear more of that sort of thing during the Olympics.

 You won't see these Canadians in the opening ceremonies. And you won't see much of them around the Olympic city until their event is over, either.

 "We're not going to be looking around like athletes who don't have a chance to win a medal,'' said the national netminder. "You're not going to see us anywhere near the Sydney Opera House or out shopping.''

 But on a lonely empty street in the Athletes Village, you'll be able to see them carrying their flag and walking in their parade uniforms in their own opening ceremonies.