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Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Don't panic

Disappointing start for Canada is nothing new

 SYDNEY -- There hasn't been a cloud in the Sydney sky since these Games began. Except the big black one over Canada.

 One gold. No silver. One bronze.

 What's happening here?

 Woe Canada? Whoa, Canada!

 Before we declare our nation to be in the sporting toilet and prepare to flush, let's not rush. We're notoriously slow starters at Summer Olympics.

 Seven and a half days into the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Canada hadn't won a single, solitary medal. Then the one we won, we had to give back. Ben Johnson was Canada's first medal of those Olympics. In the end Canada won 10 we got to keep - three gold, two silver and five bronze.

 Remember Barcelona? Remember Nicholas Gill? It was Day 4 when, late at night, word reached the press centre and Canada's medal-starved scribes flew into action. Gill, of Montreal, had won bronze in judo. Canada hadn't won a medal yet. Two vanloads of Canadian media raced to get to Gill by the time he came out of doping control. Canada won 18 medals in Barcelona: three gold, 11 silver and eight bronze.

 In Atlanta, Canada won 22 medals, more than we had won at any non-boycotted Summer Olympics. At this stage of the Atlanta Olympics, Canada had two medals. Both bronze.

 "Historically, Canada seems to be slow out of the gate,'' says chef de mission Diane Jones-Konihowski. "Stuff seems to happen to us early at Olympics. I don't know why, but it just seems to always work that way.


 '`Look what happened to David Ford at kayak. He's the defending world champion. How do you not feel for him? And Tanya Dubnicoff. I talked to her this morning. She's still in a state of shock. This is not the way the script was supposed to be written,'' she said of the Winnipeg cyclist.

 "We've had some disappointments. But look at what some Canadians have done. Marianne Limpert finished fourth. She's an athlete about to retire and she has a personal best and finishes fourth. To the other athletes, that's awesome.''

 '`We've had nine personal bests and three Commonwealth records at the pool. We're getting tonnes of personal bests. That's all we can ask from these kids.''

 That's the sort of thing a chef de mission is supposed to say.

 But while Malar is leaving empty-handed again and destined to be viewed as a two-time Olympic letdown, anybody making that mistake with Limpert should be spanked.

 "I was fourth in the world,'' said the Fredericton, N.B., swimmer. "Maybe a lot of people don't understand what it's like to make an Olympic final. I'm not out to please the media or someone else. I'm walking away from here proud of myself. I was four one-hundredths of a second from a bronze medal.''

 That said, it's been lonely at Canada House at McQuarrie University where, other than a pair of visits from triathlon gold-medallist Simon Whitfield, Greg Greenough of Edmonton, who runs the place, has felt like he's in solitary confinement.

 Victoria's Whitfield, who has been the only visitor with family and friends and 300 Canadians swarming to the place to celebrate with him and watch Calgary's Curtis Myden win bronze on the big-screen TV, is now being willingly used as inspiration for the on-the-verge-of-being-bummed-out Canadian team.

 '`I've been all around the village with the gold medal,'' Whitfield said. ``It's been around a few necks. It's great to see how Canadians react. I have to keep asking them not to bite it. They all hold it and say the same thing - `It's heavy!' I hope it's a bit of an inspiration.''

 It was, said Ford, the world champion kayak competitor who had his Olympic dream burst again.

 "I watched Simon and it inspired the hell out of me,'' said Edmonton's Ford.

 "I desperately wanted to carry the momentum and get a medal for this team. It hurts.

 "We don't get many medal opportunities. To let one get away like this ... maybe my destiny is not to get an Olympics right. But I'll be back. I'm going to go for a fourth Olympics,'' said Ford who had this happen to him in Barcelona and Atlanta, too.


 It's early yet. Canada starts slowly. But we're not going to win 22 medals here like Atlanta. We're not going to win 18 like Barcelona. And, maybe, just maybe, we might not even win 10, like Seoul.

 Ford supplies the bottom line if the disappointments continue.

 "Denis Coderre (federal sports honcho) stands up and makes speeches, but all our athletes are looking at Australia and what they're doing here and we know what they have for funding and what we have for funding. They're winning medals and we're barely making finals. That's going to be Canada's future unless we start to fund this program like Australia.''