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Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Confidence no problem for more mature Tunks

 It is fascinating to watch the development of a young athlete, to monitor the smoothing influence of time on the physical and psychological burrs and the sleek efficiency it produces.

 You couldn't call Jason Tunks sleek, not even if his 271 pounds are wrapped tightly on a six-foot-seven frame. But the efficiency and the style of the powerful young discus thrower from London has been ratcheted another notch closer to the big one.

 A gold medal. You read it here first. Next Olympics, he says.

 He came close to guaranteeing it after a superb performance Monday night at the event final. A confident, aggressive Tunks faulted just once in the six-throw final to finish sixth in the 12-man field with increased distances to the fifth throw, when he hit 65.80 metres.

 "I'm looking forward to the next Olympics; I'm gonna own that one," Tunks said.

 Lots of elite athletes say things like that. There's absolutely no doubt this guy means it.

 "I've matured as an athlete and my confidence has grown over the last two months," he said. "I had some great training throws, hit 71 (metres a couple of times), so it's there. In the next three or four years, I'm gonna be the best thrower in the world."

 You sense a homing in on it, the inexorable slow march discus and shot put inflict upon its practitioners. Tunks is on course.

 Virgilius Alekna's 69.30 won the gold medal on this chilly night, with Germany's Lars Riedel taking the silver (68.50 metres) and South African Frantz Kruger taking the bronze (68.19 metres).

 Time is on Tunks's side in his quest for dominance. He's 25 and has at least seven more years in an event that usually sees athletes peak in their late 20s and early 30s. Alekna is 28, Riedel 33.

 So is circumstance on his side. He's taken a buffeting through injury and illness and a competitive pounding at his first Olympics. He's paid his dues.

 The disconsolate kid who failed to qualify at the Atlanta Olympics has grown in many ways. Hang around athletes long enough and you get to sense something coming.

 He's making changes in his life, ones designed to reach that gold medal, such as joining a new coach in Athens, Ga., Don Babbit. He's more centred. He's pleased the coach who knows him best, Banting's John Allan, was here to work with him.

 Like a lot of people, Tunks is not happy with the Canadian performance overall here and it came out when sprinter Donovan Bailey's name came up.

 "Donovan Bailey didn't do anything coming in here and got everything you can imagine, whereas Bruny (Surin) is one of the most overlooked athletes in Canada," he

 "It's good to get (the media attention) off Bailey and onto the others."

 As ever, the famous incident with his wife, Teri, who is a shot putter with the U.S. team, came up. Let's hear it again, Jason.

 "I was standing there talking when I heard a lot of yelling," he related. "I look up and get hit on the shoulder and the mouth with a shot. I get up and look around and Teri's doing figure-eights and yelling. A good friend of mine pointed at my mouth."

 The rest of the story, besides all the lost teeth, is he married Teri Steers, who launched the shot.

  She was cheering his latest step. He'll be cheering her performance in a couple of days. This could make for a fascinating Olympic story one day.