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Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Deep sleep Down Under

Aussies have made our system their own

 SYDNEY -- Canada should be beyond being baffled and bewildered about what has happened here heading into the home stretch of the XXVII Olympic Games.

 With one gold and the rest of our measly medal count, we should be "infuriated'' says the president of the Canadian Olympic Association.

 When you consider the history here, Canadians should be "bleeped off,''' COA boss Bill Warren of Calgary told The Sun.

 "This is a wake-up call,'' said Warren. "Our system should be reviewed, revamped, restructured and de-politicized,'' he added. "It's exactly what some of our athletes are saying. We're getting exactly what we are paying for.''

 The point isn't entirely the measly medal count, he suggests. It's where we were and where we are going.

 "It's not ending up with 10 or 12 or 15 medals we'll end up with here. We've been caught napping while the rest of the world has caught up and passed us.''


 And as much as anything, he says, this is every bit as much about Australia as it is about Canada.

 The Australians have lapped us.

 If you know the history you know that Australia took our old sports system, perfected it and then, when Sydney won the bid to play host to these Games back in 1993, poured millions more into it.

 At the same time, Canada ditched the system and has damn near turned off the tap.

 "Canadians should be infuriated that the Australians have taken our system and perfected it while we've let happen what has happened to us. It's an absolutely valid complaint. Even if we'd won 30 medals at these Games, Canadians should still be bleeped off about that.''

 It seems like ages ago that Simon Whitfield won that gold medal for Canada.

 To go without gold from the second day of play at the greatest show in sport with one gold and our puny medal total has left Canada as the world's worst in terms of number of athletes to number of medals. We're back to where we were, going into Montreal in 1976.

 Canada hasn't won fewer than three golds since the 1996 Montreal Olympics when we became the only host nation not to win a gold medal.

 Are our gold medal days over? After winning 23 golds in the last four Olympics and 94 medals overall in Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta combined, can Canada cope with going from being up there with the giants to being on page two of the medal listings?

 Should we start paying for medals like the Americans who write cheques for $15,000, $10,000 and $7,500 for podium performances?

 Lemme see.

 One gold. $15,000. One silver. $10,000. Five bronze. $37,500. Heck, that's only $63,000.

 "I don't think paying for performance is the solution,'' said Warren.

 "A lot of our medal winners do well in their own right,'' he said of endorsements, etc.

 "I think we're better off to identify athletes capable of winning medals and invest in the reward. I don't believe that paying the podium will inspire more athletes to get to the podium. I think the athletes want financial assistance for training, coaching and competition to give them a better chance to get there.

 "When I first took this position six years ago I thought there was enough money there. I thought the money was being inefficiently handled and restructuring the system would get the results. The system hasn't been restructured.

 "The system still has to be restructured. Now that has to be a priority. Now it's crystal clear.

 '`We absolutely have to have a more efficient and better system. And as for my original thought that there is enough money if we had a better system ... I don't believe that anymore.


 "I think we have to look at Australia. Our countries have a great deal in common. The Australians do a wonderful job of supporting athletes and their youth. It really comes down to a higher priority from government in supporting our athletes and our youth.

 "We need to have a group, separate from government as it is with the Australians, a group whose whole reason for being is high-performance sport.''

 Warren says making statements isn't enough.

 "The Canadian Olympic Association now has to take responsibility to see that the system is changed,'' he said.

 Go, COA, go!