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Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Kayaker fights the currents
 PENRITH LAKES - Mihai Apostol finished last Tuesday.

 Way last.

 The 29-year-old kayaker from Dartmouth, N.S., failed to advance in the men's K1 1000-metre competition at the Sydney International Regatta Centre. In an event that's like the NHL used to be, where anybody who could get their skates on the proper feet made the playoffs, Apostol is out.

 Twenty-seven of the 31 kayaks in the water in the men's K1 1000m advanced either to the final or the semifinal, but Apostol wasn't one of them.

 Here we go, some of you Olympic bashers are saying, just another Canadian who has crapped out in these Games.

 Sometimes you need perspective to understand these things.

 The K1 1000m isn't Apostol's event. He only raced in it to hold his place in the K1 500m, an event in which he made the final in the 1997 world championships.

 Canada only qualified for a spot here in the K1 1000, but once you're here you can compete in other events.

 Sometimes you need to look beyond the times or the placings.

 Perspective is something of which Apostol has no shortage.

 Canadians shouldn't be down on this guy for leaving the Maple Leaf so far up the pike. He, as much or maybe more than any Canadian, appreciates what it means to compete in our colours.

 Like a lot of Canadian athletes, he makes sacrifices to compete.

 "I paid my own money to be where I am," said Apostol, who works in sales for Ikon Office Solutions. "I work my ass off. I train in the morning, go to work and train in the evening. The savings I have go to training camps."

 Perspective.

 It's something you earn - or is forced on you - when you decide, as a frightened 18-year-old, to defect. Apostol, competing for Romania, defected during the 1989 world junior championships in Dartmouth, leaving behind his family, leaping into an unknown darkness, throwing himself into a country where he had nothing and knew even less.

 After his race Tuesday, Apostol was heading to the airport to pick up his parents, Vasile and Vasilica, who were flying in from Romania to watch him compete in his best race, the men's K1 500m Wednesday. It will be only the second time they've seen their son compete.

 Apostol hadn't seen his parents for two years when he headed off to the airport to pick them up, their flights paid for by a sponsor back in Halifax.

 They one and only time seen've him compete before he won the gold medal in a K1 200m sprint at a World Cup event in Hungary.

 They both lost their jobs (Vasile recently retired as a mechanical engineer and Vasilica is accountant) after Mihai defected. His brother lost his rank in the army.

 Their house was turned upside down by the secret police.

 "For me, it was the right thing to do," he said. "Romanians were undergoing persecution and there were a lot of people fleeing for freedom. I was one of them."

 He defected with his parter in the K2, Marian Zamfir ("Just like the guy who plays the flute," said Apostol) after the semifinal. They figured security around them would be too tight after the final to be able to get away.

 They lived together in Canada for about a year.

 Apostol stopped training. Living was taking up all his time.

 "The first year I was confused. I had to work to support myself. I had no relatives, no friends. I had to make money to pay the rent and buy food. That was my first priority."

 He got a job parking and washing cars at a car dealership in Halifax. He worked construction. He learned English quickly.

 Apostol turned back to kayaking and made the Canadian team in 1991.

 A few months after he defected, the revolution came in Romania.

 "I'm not the type of guy to just sit back while that was happening," said Apostol, "so I probably would have on the front lines. I got a call from my mother and she said, 'I'm so glad you are over there. Some of your friends were killed.' Who knows where I would be now?"

 Perspective.

 "I did something I'll never regret...Maybe I would have been Olympic champion sooner or I could have been dead. Two of my best friends died."