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Thursday, September 14, 2000

'I feel like it's my time'

Dubnicoff determined to medal


 SYDNEY -- How technical have the Olympic Games become?

 How small are the details in cutting corners and shaving seconds now?

 Well, even proximity to food, Winnipeg track cyclist Tanya Dubnicoff feels, can make the difference between gold and being left out in the cold again.

 "In the village this time, Team Canada's only 100 metres from the dining hall, and that's key," smiled Dubnicoff, now a grizzled, three-time Olympic Games veteran. "When you get to the Games and try to conserve your energy, suddenly, how far you walk makes all the difference in the world. Especially cyclists. We don't like to walk anywhere. Walking is boring.

 "And when you have to walk a long way every day to get your meals, it wears on your nerves.

 "Even when we're just walking to catch the bus, we'll be like, 'You mean we have to walk 500 metres to that bus stop?'

 "So being close to everything is cool."

 NOT SO COOL

 But being close on the bike track without an Olympic podium finish is not so cool.

 And Dubnicoff's all-time track cycling results run in a disturbing pattern like this: First. First. Second. Sixth. First. Second. Second. Eighth.

 The ones that don't belong are, of course, the ones that matter most. Six and eight are the 30-year-old Dubnicoff's numbers from her past Olympic Games.

 They're the wrong numbers. For the past 10 years, they have been the oops-a-daisy red wine stain on a white cocktail dress of a career.

 She has not performed like she can at the most important time. She has disappointed herself.

 But all that, she says, is in the wash.

 "I feel like it's my time," said Dubnicoff. "I feel I have come through on the big days for the past few years, but I have never come through on the biggest day.

 "It's time to change that."

 Not if you consult Time-Warner's star mag Sports Illustrated, it isn't. In its recent Olympic medal predictions edition, SI dubbed Dubnicoff for one measly bronze, even though the Canadian champ figures herself for a couple in a different colour in the sprint and the 500-m time trial this week.

 "I don't take much stock in what Time-Warner has to say about me," snapped Canada's Pan Am Games flagbearer. "Time was a sponsor of mine for a previous Olympics, and I guess they didn't think the agreement panned out for them."

 But for all her fiery talk, panning gold here will be no ride (remember, walking's boring) in the park for Dubnicoff, who gets started early with the time trial final on Sept. 16.

 France's defending Olympic sprint champ Felicia Ballanger, expected to win double gold this time, hasn't been beaten on the velodrome by Dubnicoff or anybody, in six years. That's a pretty nice, little win streak.

 And Australia's Michelle Ferris is no slouch on the seat, either. But this time, Dubnicoff's not worried about anybody's performance, not even her own.

 She's just going to ride.

 It sounds so simple. Don't worry. Be happy. Just ride.

 Not so easy to do. Especially now since the urgency to medal has never been greater.

 She wouldn't say if this was her last Games, but as a contender, it likely is.

 "Now, I'm at a point where I'm relaxed, I'm at a place where I just like to ride my bike, I'm comfortable," said Dubnicoff. "I ate lunch with (swimmer) Joanne Malar the other day. She's another one who everybody had all these Olympic expectations for, but she pressed, tried too hard, and didn't get the results she wanted.

 "And sitting there with her, seeing how she's so relaxed this time, not worrying about every little thing, is a pleasure to see."

 For Dubnicoff, it was like looking in the mirror.

 And for the first time at an Olympics, she feels the face in the glass is smiling back.