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Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Women pull out spot in final

 SYDNEY -- Canada's women's eights rowing crew made a stunning charge Wednesday to advance to Saturday's final, but the men's boat in the glamour event was knocked out of contention.

 Both races had photo finishes.

 The women closed hard to nip Australia and finish just behind the Americans. The men's eights came third in their three-boat repechage behind the U.S. and Romania and slowly drifted back to their sealed-off docking area, speaking to no one.

 The lightweight double sculls duo of Fiona Milne and Tracy Duncan, a pleasant surprise Wednesday in an Olympics far from the equal of previous ones as far as Canada's rowers are concerned, advanced to the semifinals.

 "We didn't know for a while whether we were second or third," Heather McDermid said of the hotly contested women's eights race.

 The Canadians finished with a 500-metre blast in 1:34.27 to close the gap to 26/100ths of a second behind the Americans and 36/100ths ahead of the Australians.

 "(Coxswain) Lesley (Thompson of London) asked us to go-go-go," McDermid said.

 And they went, went, went, close to coach Al Morrow's pre-race expectations. He would like to have seen a better start, but enjoyed the gutsy finale.

 "I wanted them to come up with their second-best race of the year," he said, "and then give their best race of the year in the final.

 "They showed it again: On the big day they come up big."

 It might not have been their best, but it was one of their gutsiest.

 "There is such a trade-off between going really hard at the start and paying for it in the last 500 metres," McDermid said. "We still have something left in us.

 "I love doing repechage (qualifying after failing to advance from the heats). You learn something every race. You don't really get to race that often so it's a chance to try a few small things, things you wouldn't want to try in a final."

 Morrow admitted he had some concern at the start of the race, an event Canada captured a silver in at the Atlanta Olympics and a gold medal at the 1992 Games.

 "The Aussies and Americans were lower in their stroke rate, a good indicator they were saving their energy," Morrow said.

 "I wondered if we could keep it going. But they had something left and really dug deep the last 500 metres."

 Lightweight scullers Milne and Duncan, a late addition to the Canadian rowing team when the Olympic entry list was expanded, scored a second-place finish to Switzerland to secure a semifinal position.

 "It was a bit nervous off the start but we calmed down," Milne said. "We prefer early races. We get up at 4 a.m. and do a little weight control before weighing. We step on the scales two hours before our race.

 "We'll do a little bike ride, maybe shed half a pound. Weight (125-pound limit) is not a problem, although I would weigh over right now just with this bottle of water, which weighs about half a pound," she added, taking a gulp.

 Canada entered nine boats in the Olympics and five remain in medal contention.