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Sunday, September 17, 2000

Canucks claim Olys pale next to the Pan Ams

 SYDNEY -- Few events capture an athlete's imagination like the Olympics.

 But for some, Winnipeg's Pan Am Games did an even dreamier job.

 And as she participated in her first Olympic opening ceremonies the other night, Winnipeg badminton player Kara Solmundson found herself thinking back to how great everything was in her home town last year.

 "This might sound strange, but walking out the other night was nothing like walking out in the Stadium at Pan Am Games," she said. "Sure, there was 110,000 people or whatever here, but they were set further back in the stands because of the field.

 "I just felt the Pan Ams were so incredible. We walked in, and the reception we got was unbelievable. The place just shook.

 "And all the Canadian athletes here felt that way. That it was better in Winnipeg."

 Certainly track cyclist Jim Fisher of Winnipeg agreed.

 And this is a guy who found out he could compete in the Olympics four days ago.

 An unexpected, lifelong dream came true, yet when it was over last night, he still thought competing at home last year was the real bomb.

 "The Pan Ams were the most amazing thing," said Fisher, "and the Olympics are a close second. A very close second." But still, second.

 High praise, indeed.

 Still, it's not like the athletes have anything to complain about here in Sydney, Solmundson said emphatically.

 Countries united in U.S. boo

 "You won't hear me saying anything bad and the Olympics in the same sentence," said Solmundson. "It's been great, and don't believe otherwise."

 For the Canadians, there were some great opening ceremony stories.

 The funniest part, Solmundson said, happened behind the scenes while all 200 countries assembled together in the waiting area in the Super Dome.

 "The U.S., with their 10,000 athletes, started doing their thing. They had their chant, 'USA, USA' going, so all the other countries united to give them a quiet boo," laughed Solmundson. "Of course, we Canadians just stood and watched these other countries give it to them, not for them as people, but for their arrogance.

 "It was hilarious. Just great."

 On the court last night, Solmundson and her mixed doubles partner Mike Beres easily handled their first round opponents, Mauritius' Stephan Beeharry and Marie Pierre, in straight sets.

 The Canadians made it to the round of 16 today, which Solmundson believes ensures the same level of funding from the government.

 At least one player or pair had to make it that far to keep the dough flowing.

 They'll be in tough though now, facing Denmark's world No. 4 ranked Michael Sogaard and Rikke Olsen.

 In singles action, Solmundson lost to badminton world power Indonesia's top player Lidya Djaelawijaya in straight sets and was eliminated.