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Monday, September 18, 2000

Quick departure for Solmundson

Doubles team done in by Danes


 SYDNEY -- They were beaten in 25 minutes.

 And they're out on the second day of the Olympics.

 But after Winnipegger Kara Solmundson and mixed doubles partner Mike Beres dropped a 15-8, 15-2 decision to Denmark's No. 4 world-ranked Michael Sogaard and Rikke Olsen in badminton, it was tough to pick out the conquerers from the conquered.

 The losers exchanged high-fives and smiled.

 The winners didn't. They were standing there grim-faced, wondering where this hole in their game came from.

 How could they let these Canadians string together four straight points against them in the first set?

 Unthinkable.

 "It may not have looked like it, but that was a great match for us," said Solmundson. "We had some great rallies, we really pushed them, and we made them think about us.

 "It's a great way to go out."

 They did not leave as a blip on the screen. They earned their opponents' respect. They made the Danes play hard.

 COMPETITION OVER

 "And now, my competition is over, but my Olympics are just beginning," laughed Solmundson, who will train in Winnipeg in October, play a tournament there in November and return to the Winter Club for nationals next year in May.

 The other day, after they beat a team from Mauritius to move to the round of 16, Solmundson was asked for her autograph -- swarmed almost -- by an enthusiastic group of fans.

 She signed every one, but it took a while because she's not used to this sort of thing, and Solmundson is a long last name to write.

 "Y'know, I was reading an interview with the No. 1 badminton player in the world from India, and he was saying his biggest problem is getting swarmed for autographs every time he goes out,' she laughed.

 "And I was like, 'O.K., buddy, that's some real big problem you've got there.' "

 Chances are that guy never had to enter a tournament knowing his government funding was on the line.

 Solmundson, Beres, and the four other Canadians knew the dough was up in the air coming into this one.

 Someone had to make it to the round of 16 to keep their training money coming.

 Before she came to Sydney, Solmundson was criticized in Canada for not giving up the singles berth she earned so another woman could compete here.

 But she came to compete, to get better, and for the experience.

 That is why she plays.

 "I just find it to be the most challenging game I've ever played," shrugged the 26-year-old. "I've tried a lot of them, and this is the one I found the most interesting."

 Sure, she expects a certain degree of success.

 And so should Canada. When we get a medal hope like Tanya Dubnicoff, Emma Robinson and Joanne Malar, they are not off the hook if they don't live up to their expectations.

 But Solmundson's hope is a realistic one. There have been a lot of top-notch Canadian birdie-belters, and the highest they've ever finished at the Olympics is ninth.

 It is not Our Game. You will not get rich and famous playing it for Canada.

 But still, Solmundson will put off her career once again, and move from Calgary to Ottawa in the hopes of getting her game, and Canada, a little bit closer to those teams on the other side of the world who are born into a badminton culture.

 And maybe in Athens, with the luck of a good draw, she and Beres can advance another round or two.

 Such is the lure of these Games.