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Friday, September 15, 2000

It all starts with Tanya

 SYDNEY -- Where do the 15 Manitobans rate? What will be our athletes' fate? Will their Olympics stink or turn out great?

  Depends on the numbers of medals, mate.

 You can't really expect more than four from this year's contingent -- the odds say Manitoba medals could come in cycling, rowing, and taekwondo -- but this province, whose 15 bodies make up 5% of the team's 311 members, does have the potential for a quick start from the gate.

 Long-time cycling sprint queen Tanya Dubnicoff has a glorious chance to grab Canada's first medal of the Games tonight as she goes for gold in the 500-metre time trial.

 It's another shot for the 30-year-old Winnipegger to put the pedal to a medal after two straight Olympic disappointments. France's Felicia Ballanger is the runaway pick, but there's no reason why the Canadian can't keep within reach. Dubnicoff also eyes the 500-metre sprint Sept. 18-20.

 It's a competition Ballanger hasn't lost in six years, but hey, everyone loses sometime.

 Plus, second and third are still available. Road cyclist Clara Hughes, the double bronze medallist in Atlanta, isn't considered much of a contender on the world stage anymore, but it's pretty tough to count out someone who has been there before.

 SENSATION

 All the hype's been about 19-year-old sensation Genevieve Jeanson from Quebec this year, but Hughes proved at nationals she's still faster. Both compete in the road race Sept. 26 and the time trial Sept. 30.

 To the oars-folk, three-time world champion rower Emma Robinson, who barely missed a beat after thyroid cancer last year, teams up with coxless pairs partner Theresa Luke for Canada's best chance on the choppy waters of Penrith. Robinson and Luke should have a stroke-for-stroke battle against the Romanians, with the Aussies and Americans applying heat in the Sept. 23 final. Emma also rows the eights, and could make it two-for-two on back-to-back days Sept. 24.

 Landmark's Dominique Bosshart has a great chance for a taekwondo heavyweight women's medal in a one-day, all-day whirlwind event Sept. 30. In the pool, 18-year-old Kelly Stefanyshyn is on a mission in the 100- and 200-metre backstroke.

 She holds the Canadian record in the women's 100-metre (1:02.14), and if she pops off a personal best swim, she could have podium potential in a wide-open field Sept. 18, or try again Sept. 22 in the 200.

 Fellow swimmers Michelle Lischinsky and Rhiannon Leier -- roommates in the village, teammates back home, and medley relay swimmers at the Games -- will also be splashing for personal best times and a spot in their respective finals.

 The 26-year-old Lischinsky swims the same individual race as Stefanyshyn (100m back), except not as fast, and Leier has the misfortune of racing in the 100 breaststroke against South African legend Penny Heyns, the host country's Leisel Jones, and 16-year-old American Megan Quann, the antsy heiress to Heyns' golden throne. Shannon Shakespeare swims two relays, a definite strength of medal-hoarders Australia and the U.S.

 Everybody else, including Canada, is vying for relay third. On the hardwood, Philadelphia 76ers centre and Canadian post-up man Todd MacCulloch will be in the middle of Canada's hopes in men's hoops. Of course, gold was a goner as soon as the Dream Team landed Down Under.

 MORE REASONABLE GOAL

 Luckily, the Canadians don't have to face the U.S. early, but they do have to play the Aussies, Russians and Yugos, so they better beat Angola and Spain in the round-robin or they're toast. Top-eight is a more reasonable goal.

 Skeet shooter Jason Caswell can't help but improve from his Atlanta performance, where colour blindness did him in.

 Don't forget 25-year-old cyclist Jim Fisher, who will try to make a name for himself with a good show in the 1-km time trial. A medal is asking too much.

 Jeff Liberty should give it an honest go in the three-metre diving show.

 And the Newsham sisters -- Heather and Sandy -- hope to pitch the inexperienced, rookie-filled Canadian women's softball team into the medal round, needing four round-robin wins to do it.

 Speaking of rookies, Kara Solmundson and the badminton squad are six-for-six in first-time Olympians.

 Still, the Winnipegger, who tore a muscle in her left calf last month and has an awfully tough draw in singles, sees a reasonable shot to get past a few rounds in mixed doubles with Brantford's Mike Beres. But a medal is far away.

 This will not be a banner year for Canada in medal count.

 The nation will likely only win 17. And the pressure will be on Dubnicoff, Robinson, Hughes and Bosshart to carry Canada at least that far.

 It is a lot of weight.