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Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Shark repellent, please

Triathlon opens Games with danger lurking


 SYDNEY - It's not something that's going to be a factor at next year's world triathlon championships in Edmonton.

 Sharks. At my last look that lake in the middle of Hawrelak Park, it doesn't have any.

 '`Because of the temperature of the water here we're allowed to wear wet-suits. And if one of the sharks does get a bit hungry it may just be tempted to take a bite,'' says American Nick Radkewich.

 Maybe the sharks are part of the hype here. The triathlon is the lead act of this year's five-ring circus. And what a way for a sport to make its Olympic debut.

 It's not just the sharks. It's the drop-dead beautiful backdrop of the entire Olympics.

 It's hard to imagine, give or take the odd hungry shark, that a triathlon course and scene could get any better than this anywhere in the world, ever.

 '`We're pretty lucky, aren't we?'' said Canada's Sharon Donnelly after pulling herself out of Sydney Harbour here yesterday morning. ``This is just going to be wonderful.''

 OCTOPUS AND JELLYFISH

 As long as you don't get eaten by a shark.

 Canadian coach Barrie Shepley mentioned octopus, too. And jellyfish.

 Jellyfish aren't going to get you a headline. Sharks are different. Jaws I is the women's event, the lead event of the Games here Saturday morning. Jaws II is the men on Sunday morning.

 '`When the lead swimmers go through a whole bunch of jellyfish it's a little spooky,'' says Shepley.

 '`As for the sharks ... we hope it's not going to happen. The organizing committee has gone above and beyond the call of duty. They've put sonar sounds in the water which are supposed to send sharks far enough away. They tell us the only ones we'll see are about three feet long and they'll be more afraid of the swimmers than the swimmers will be afraid of them.''

 Shepley is one guy here who doesn't discount the talk about sharks.

 '`I took a junior team to Perth once and the parents were really concerned. I told them not to be concerned at all. On the first day we were there a 40-foot shark took a bite about two feet long out of a surf board. I'm totally telling the truth. For three days in a row we just couldn't compete.''

 Canada's Donnelly rolls her eyes.

 '`Everybody is asking about sharks. I don't think we're going to see any sharks. But I think the talk of all the sharks means a lot more people are going to watch us. All the excitement about sharks adds an element of danger.''

 There's also the cold. That's a factor.

 '`I'm Canadian,'' says Simon Whitfield. ``I'm hoping it's so cold it freezes over and they make us use skates.''

 Donnelly says she thinks the Edmonton course will be as challenging when it comes to the bike and running sections. But it's tough to make it any tougher than Sydney Harbour when it comes to the lead swim section.

 '`Out by the wall it's like a washing machine,'' she says. ``You take a lot of gulps of salt water out there.''

 Putting them in this water makes it compelling. But this is going to be more about cosmetics than anything.

 '`This is the most beautiful setting we've ever had for an event,'' says Donnelly. ``I think there will be more people watching just because of how beautiful it's going to look. And there's going to be a great crowd. On most of the course, spectating is going to be free.''

 PUTTING IT BEST

 No. 1-ranked American Hunter Kemper probably put it best.

 '`Our venue is the best for any of the sports here. The backdrop of the Opera House, then being able to ride through the city and around Mrs. Macquarie's Chair is fantastic. I may be biased, but how do you beat that?''

 Indeed.

 And there's never been an Olympics with anything close to the facilities they have here.

 The harbour foreshore is the postcard picture from Sydney. The triathlon course has been designed around some of Sydney's most scenic sites.

 The swim leg takes place from the Opera House in front of the famed Harbour Bridge. The cycle course travels up Macquarie Street around to Art Gallery Road and past the Art Gallery of New South Wales to Mrs. Macquarie's Point in the Royal Botanic Gardens. After reaching the college street turnaround the course will lead the athletes back down Macquarie Street to the Opera House. The run circuit hugs the foreshore around the Opera House. All transitions will be at the Opera House forecourt.

 I mean, is television going to like this, or what?

 Put it all together and what do you have?

 Something special.

 '`It's impossible to put into words how excited our athletes, all the athletes, are to be here,'' said Shepley.

 '`Our sport has had more visibility in the last 20 days than in the last 20 years.''