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Saturday, September 23, 2000

Porter's best still not good enough

 Derek Porter sat head bowed in his boat, a picture of fatigue and frustration, drifting aimlessly after one of the most crushing defeats in the final singles race of his long rowing career Saturday.

 It's doubtful but he may come back in another boat. He may move to Australia to be with girlfriend Tara Moss, a Canadian-born model working in Sydney.

 He may, after four years' work, pull his oar out of the water for good.

 That's the most likely scenario as one of Canada's prime medal hopefuls finished a narrow fourth in one of the hottest races of the regatta. He did everything he could but it was not enough.

 It has become a familiar song around the Canadian team generally and Porter's was one more verse. Canada is out of turn here and everyone, athletes included, want to rectify it. Later, some of Porter's thoughts went to Canada's marked medal decline.

 "Something needs to be done, obviously," the 32-year-old chiropractor said of Canada's pallid performances. "There have been disappointing performances in general, not just rowing, and it has to be looked at for sure.

 "Other countries are putting financial resources into their sports. Our athletes have done well in spite of the system. Perhaps people think why spend more money when we're doing pretty well. Well, it's catching up to us now."

 The rowing world has caught up to Canada in a big way. After taking eight medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games, Canadian rowers scooped six in Atlanta. As many close to rowing predicted, the world has caught up and proved itself to be in the passing lane here.

 The women's coxless pair, Emma Robinson and Theresa Luke, also finished just out of the medals. For them, there was still the eights. For Porter, it's almost certainly over.

 "I've had some great races on the right side of that clock and maybe I'm paying for it now," an emotional Porter said.

 He felt he "used the fuel as efficiently as I could have under the circumstances" and his deep dejection did not relate to how he performed. Anger would have been his principle emotion if he'd made mistakes in tactics or effort.

 He did neither but was still edged out of a bronze by German Marcel Hacker, six minutes, 50.83 seconds to 6:51.10.

 New Zealander Rob Waddell won the gold in 6:48.90, Xeno Mueller of Switzerland the silver in 6:50.55 in one of the most tightly contested races of the regatta.

 Robinson and Luke also finished fourth, behind Americans Melissa Ryan and Karen Kraft. The Romanian boat, Georgeta Damian and Doina Ignat, won the gold, the Australian pair of Rachael Taylor and Kate Slatter the silver.

 "I'd be angry if there was something I didn't do but in reviewing the race, there was nothing I could have done more," Porter said, fighting tears. "It's the same throughout (the rowing team). We had excellent training."

 Still, he said, Canada must catch the world now in preparation.

 "I think we have to be more centralized than we already are and have athletes there all the time, focused on a specific boat," he said.

 If disappointment reigns among Canadian fans, it fell light years short of Porter's yesterday. There have been highs in his 11 years with the national team, including a gold in eights at Barcelona and a silver in singles at Atlanta.

 There have been lows, as well. But nothing matched that moment he drifted slowly beyond the finish line, an eyeblink from a medal but instantly much, much further away from competition.