SEARCH 2000 Games

Thursday, September 21, 2000

Gill adds some life to Canadian hopes

 SYDNEY -- Just when hopes were fading, just when national sporting pride was taking a licking, along comes this friendly jug-eared guy to prop it up a little and add some life to the Olympic Games for Canada. He is Nicolas Gill, a one-time child judo prodigy who went through a lot of knocks and slams before winning a silver medal Thursday in the under-100 kilogram class. That his loss to Japanese world champion Kosei Inoue was so decisive is beside the point.

 Here was a Canadian draped in the Canadian flag with a silver medal around his neck. It was enough to add a tear to the jaded eye of a collective media numbed by a succession of almosts and up the tracks, even though everyone knew this wasn't going to be Canada's more fruitful games.

 Gill, the stigma of a sub-par 1996 Olympics still clinging to him, battled his way through a crowd of tough customers to get to the final against world champ Inoue. It was over in quick time.

 The fighters were tied 1-1 when the lightning- fast Inoue hoisted Gill and slammed him on his back at 2:09 of their bout with an ippon move.

 So what? He knocked off a lot of the best before tangling with the reigning world champion.

 "This guy is the best fighter here in any weight class," Gill said, a pageant of Japanese flags fluttering behind him for the winner. "And he's improving. I've now fought him four times. Two of them were real close, once in Japan and another time in Germany but I'm 0 for 4 now.

 "I was doing what I wanted to do. I saw it on the replay and I was exactly where I wanted to be. Next thing I knew I was on my back." Said Canadian team manager "the quickness of that move was astounding."

 Gill was as pleased at the timing of his medal as anyone.

 "Yeah, Iguess we haven't won a medal for four days," the 28-year-old University of Montreal physical education student said. "Hopefully things will go a little better over the next few days."

 Gill won a bronze medal at the 1992 games but tapped out badly four years later at the Atlanta Olympics, finishing seventh campaigning at a lower weight level his coach says weakened him.

 He was just right over the four wins that took him into the final and an almost-relieved media, French and English, engulfed him and his medal.

 Why does one toil in the relative obscurity of a sport so far from the mainstream of sports in Canada, he was asked. His answer could have been for all those athletes whose achievements are rarely acknowledged, even Olympic athletes who only get a foot on the stage every four years.

 Because he loves it and does it well and wants to be as good as he can be at it. This night, he came pretty close to the top.

 "I was running out of gas pretty fast," Gill admitted. "Your arms get full of lactic acid and you get to a point you can barely close your hands after a match. Earlier, against the Georgian (Igor Jikurauli), my hands were so tired I was praying for the match to end.

 "But it's a good moment. Not the one that I expected but a good one." It's not the one that many Canadians expected either. But it was a good one for them, too. The big friendly guy struck a blow more important than he knows.