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Thursday, September 28, 2000

Sullivan serves notice

 SYDNEY -- You had to check the shirt to make sure he really was one of our guys.

 Yup. It was red. And it said '`Canada" on the front.

 Kevin Sullivan was talking like a Canadian hockey player, not a Malar-ia infected Canadian Olympian.

 He just made it into a final and he was talking about taking on a legend.

 "Everybody on this team has to believe they can make it to the final - and get a medal."

 He said he's going for Canada's third gold here tomorrow.

 Understand that gold is reserved for Hicham El Guerrouj in the 1,500 metres at these Olympic Games.

 "Why should I limit myself to silver or bronze or a fifth or a seventh place?" says Sullivan. "I want to be the guy standing on the podium."

 Sullivan had just finished second to Noah Ngeny of Kenya in a semifinal with a time of 3:39.66 to win a spot in the final.

 BLEEDING

 Both shins and his right knee were bleeding from being spiked during the race.

 "It was kind of rough out there. But I was prepared for it. Everybody in that race seemed to goon me at some point. But it's a tough sport, I've had worse," he said, brushing off further discussion about the ugly wounds.

 But the combination of the way he'd just run, and what he said next, made you check the shirt just to be sure.

 "I'm going into the final planning to beat Hicham El Guerrouj. Whoever beats El Guerrouj ... well, if you beat him then you're the man.

 "I'm here to win. Canadians have to come here with a winning attitude.

 "If you're competing at this level, that's how you've got to think.

 "Everybody is telling me I'm one of the last hopes Canada has here and I'm trying to do it for my teammates and my countrymen."

 This is Kevin Sullivan speaking. He hasn't made it to a final at the top of the world since he finished fifth at the 1995 World Championships In Athletics in Goteborg, Sweden.

 Eleventh in a heat at the Seville 1999 Worlds, sixth in a semifinal at the Athens 1997 Worlds, Sullivan didn't compete at the Atlanta Olympics because of bursitis.

 And these are the Sydney Olympics. This is where Canadians at the track are going to new lengths to come up short - Leah Pells breaking Bruny Surin's record of about 10 metres when she took three steps and was left sitting on the infield grass, crying, out of the Olympics with a mysterious foot injury.

 If Sullivan finishes fifth, he'll be Canada's highest-finishing Sydney 2000 Olympian, a year before Canada hosts Edmonton 2001.

 And this Canadian is suddenly going to be one of the most legendary runners in the history of the sport?

 El Guerrouj has lost only one 1,500-metre race since suffering a terrible fall at the Atlanta Olympics and, bruised and spiked, collecting himself from the track and getting up to finish the distance dead last.

 A framed picture of that fall is said to have been the only decoration on the wall of his dormitory room at the Morocco Institute of Athletics. He won the event at the Seville 1999 and Athens 1997 Worlds, where Sullivan ended up as a spectator.

 He owns the world record at 3:25.00.

 "I think the final is wide open," said Sullivan.

 "I think everybody in the field has an equal shot to make the medals.

 'HE CAN BE BEATEN'

 "El Guerrouj has been a great champion. But I think he can be beaten. I'm looking forward to this.

 '`I think it's going to be a great final."

 So does El Guerrouj. I'm just not sure he figures Sullivan in it. And he certainly sees himself in it.

 "I have good motivation," he said after winning his semi-final in 3:37.60.

 "The king of Morocco phoned me today to give me encouragement. I want to win the final in front of 110,000 people."

 Just in case, better watch out for the Canadian in the corners, El Guerrouj.