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Monday, October 2, 2000

Thrilling start, finish to Games

 SYDNEY -- If you look only at the bookends, Canada had a wonderful Olympic Games.

 Cathy Freeman had hardly lit the cauldron before Simon Whitfield of Kingston, Ont., made his dramatic come-from-behind gold medal charge to win the men's triathlon on Day 2.

 And just hours before the flame went out at Olympic Stadium, Surrey B.C., wrestler Daniel Igali brought tears of joy to his adopted nation with his unforgettable flag dance after fulfilling his gold medal dream.

 THRILLING BRONZE

 Closer to home, Landmark's Dominique Bosshart captured the hearts of the State Sports Centre crowd with a thrilling bronze medal in women's taekwondo less than 24 hours before Igali's triumph.

 In every respect, not a bad way to start and end the Games.

 But it's the stuff in between that bothered us.

 This nation's a traditional powerhouse in rowing, but its only medal came in the women's eights, which included Winnipeg's Emma Robinson.

 Dave Johnson's swim team had its most members since 1976 when it hosted the Games, but it only won one measly medal -- a bronze from the retiring Curtis Myden, who won two bronze last time in Atlanta.

 The cycling team underachieved. There should've been two medals there from Winnipeg's Tanya Dubnicoff and mountain biker Alison Sydor, or at least one from Winnipeg road cyclist Clara Hughes or Quebec phenom Genevieve Jeanson.

 The track and field team didn't win a darn thing.

 Donovan Bailey, after showing some pluck to try and run the 100-metres despite the flu last week, disappointed his relay teammates by leaving them hanging until the last minute before withdrawing, then going bar-hopping, and not calling to wish them even a "Good Luck."

 One of the more special moments on the track was the reaction of the four men who did carry the baton for Canada. They finished sixth and missed the finals, but they ran the best they could for the country, and they were visibly proud of themselves.

 As they say in Aussie, "Good on ya, boys."

 The men's basketball team was the big surprise of the Olympic's feature team event.

 Winnipeg's 7-footer Todd MacCulloch played with a lot of heart, and he opened a lot of eyes to how good an offensive force the Big Guy really is. And guard Steve Nash, despite stumbling in the quarter-final game against France, became a Canadian hero with his Olympic effort.

 Of course, there's the great international feats we can't forget. American track and field star Marion Jones didn't win five golds, but she stood on five podiums, winning three golds plus two bronze.

 Of course, her husband, C.J. Hunter, took off some of the lustre on those medals with his covered-up positive drug test.

 CAN'T FORGET THORPEDO

 You can't forget about the Thorpedo -- Sydney's own 17-year-old swim star Ian Thorpe -- who anchored the impressive Oz team and can pretty much write his own ticket anywhere in the country for the next four years.

 And then there's Freeman, the Aboriginal Aussie torch-lighter who became the foremost political and emotional symbol of these Games.

 When she ran and won the 400-metre final in her green body suit, 110,000 people in Olympic Stadium had goosebumps the size of golf balls.

 Freeman was also a part of the weirdest story of the Games when France world-record holder Marie-Jose Perec bailed out and went home rather than face the inspirational Aussie heroine.

 While Perec bailed, mammoth Russian weightlifter Andrei Chemerkin was celebrated for the greatest effort of the Games.

 The 170-kg (375-pound) cop and defending gold medallist from Atlanta needed to clean and jerk 272.5kg in order to reclaim the gold.

 Problem was, the world record was 265kg.

 Now, Chemerkin could've easily lifted 260kg to put him on the podium, but he thought settling for silver and bronze was being a pantywaist.

 So he went for the astonishing weight of 272.5kg, which is the equivalent of about six stocked refrigerators.

 He lifted it to his waist, but no more.

 He got a standing ovation for trying.

 And it's been dubbed the bravest fourth-place finish ever -- though he later received bronze because of a failed drug test be another lifter.

 Other than Igali's flag dance, the most inspiring moment came when the Aussies beat Italy in the basketball quarter-finals when Italian centre Galanda missed a shot at the buzzer.

 Galanda laid on the floor in tears, and 35-year-old Aussie captain Andrew Gaze, who was celebrating with his teammates, saw the Italian's pain, stopped whooping it up, and went over to hug him.

 It defined sportsmanship.

 And not even the most cynical eye that saw it could stay dry.