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Monday, September 11, 2000

Sydney seeing naked trends

  SYDNEY - The nude picture is stunning.

 The bronze, glistening body of Canadian waterpolo player Waneek Horn-Miller against the backdrop of a Canadian flag, wearing nothing but an eagle feather, a tattoo and a look that conveys pride and determination.

 It jumps out from the cover of a national newsmagazine, yet another buff picture of Olympian proportions.

 "It seems to be kind of a trend this Olympics," said the 24-year-old native of Kahnawake, Que., following up nude calendars of the Canadian women's cross-country ski team, a nude calendar of Australian Olympians and a tasteful shot of Canadian world slalom kayak champ David Ford which also appears in the current issue of Time magazine.

 "Some of the coaches were saying if this was Montreal in 1976, it would be a scandal. But in this day and age, people are viewing the body as a strong, powerful and beautiful thing.

 "There are two people nude in that magazine. Maybe by Athens (in 2004), everybody is going to be nude." This is not the first time Waneek-Miller has captured national attention, though the circumstances of her first exposure on the national stage, while just as stunning, were very different.

 Ten years ago, she was photographed in the moments after she was stabbed in the chest by the bayonet of a Canadian soldier in the wild confusion that was the end of the Oka Crisis, the land-rights battle at the Quebec reservation.

 Horn-Miller, a Mohawk, was bloodied and sobbing, frozen in one of the images which captured the pain of the confrontation between the warriors and Canadian soldiers.

 Her nude photo on the cover of Time reveals much, but not the scar on her chest (a waterpolo ball is strategically placed) or the way in which her brush with death changed the way her eyes look at the world.

 "The bayonet hit me right on my sternum," she remembered Monday at a press conference with her teammates in the Olympic Village. "A centimetre either way and I would have died.

 "But I've always believed that with every experience, you have to take the positive out of it. You can use the negative ones to make you stronger. I got a great education in political science (at Ottawa's Carleton University) to understand why that happened. It showed me my life is important and I need to do something with it. It fine-tuned me."

 Horn-Miller said she hopes the photo will send all the right messages to young athletes and to other native Canadians. The eagle feather she wears was a gift from her boyfriend, "a sign of honour and respect."

 "The first thing is to be asked to be on the cover, I'm very honoured. Anytime you do that, you have to think about it a lot. I talked to my family and teammates and they were all very proud of me.

 "The point I was trying to get across was strength, pride and determination. I wanted to show we have a lot of strength as a team. I'm very comfortable with my own body, but it is a funny feeling to see myself on the cover of Time. I'm okay with it. My mother said to me, 'you're not going to have that body forever. A few years from now you'll be able to look back on it and say, 'wow.'"

 That's what the women's team wants to be saying after these Olympics, the first in which women will compete in waterpolo.

 The Canadian team is a strong medal contender, having beaten everybody else in the Olympic tourney at least once in the last year.

 The first question at the press conference Monday to head coach Daniel Berthelette was why he didn't get the cover of Time.

 "I guess I'm not gorgeous enough," he said. "And my legs were not shaved." The next picture he'd like to be in would be with his team, celebrating a medal victory.

 "Our chances of going on the podium are very good," he said.

 A medal would be a nice accessory for Waneek-Miller and her teammates the next time cameras are aimed in her direction.