PENRITH LAKES, Australia -- In these Olympic Games, where Canadians -- those at least who are still paying attention -- are looking for someone, anyone, to step up and restore some of our battered national pride, Caroline Brunet stands as the best hope.
The kayaker from Lac-Beauport, Que., solidified that belief Wednesday on the waters of the Sydney International Regatta Centre, easily qualifying for the finals of the women's K-1 500m event and, with partner Karen Furneaux of Waverley, N.S., for the final of the women's K-2 500m competition.
Brunet, 31, can now bypass the semifinals in both events and won't have to race until the finals Sunday.
"I just wanted to get into the final as I don't like to work more than I have to," said Brunet, the eight-time world champion since 1997 who swept the individual events in both 1997 and 1999. "Now I can get a little more rest and spend the time getting ready for the final."
A silver medalist four years ago in the 500 in Atlanta, these Games are viewed as the opportunity for her coronation.
A gold medal is all that is missing from her incredible resume.
She showed her form Wednesday and still left something in the tank as she coasted home in both the K-1 and K-2 events when the places in the finals were assured.
In the K-1, competing in the weaker of the two heats, Brunet cruised home ahead of Sweden's Anna Olsson. The top three in each of the two heats advanced to the final. Brunet had a time of one minute, 51.558 seconds.
In the other heat, Josefa Idem Guerrini of Italy, who won the bronze in Atlanta, won the heat with a time of 1:49.889, ahead of 1996 Olympic gold medalist Rita Koban of Hungary who clocked 1:50.777.
Brunet, who moved to the end of the dock to scout the field in the second heat, attributed the faster times of Idem and Koban to a tail wind that wasn't present for her race.
"It's always good to get that race over with," said Brunet. "You can see where everybody is at. I've got a good idea now. It won't be easy, but I think I can give it a good try in the final."
Brunet will continue to work out before the final and said a pulled muscle, which she sustained about 10 days ago, is not a concern.
"I don't think it is going to worry me at all," she said.
It didn't look like a problem Wednesday.
In the K-2, Brunet and Furneaux, an Olympic rookie, rowed strongly and then let up at the end, finishing in third place in their heat behind boats from Hungary and Romania. The top three boats in each heat advanced to Sunday's final.
There will be few distractions before Sunday's race.
The kayak team is not staying in the athletes village, but instead is headquartered in a house about 10 minutes from the Regatta Centre.
It's not a bad idea. It keeps Brunet away from the atmosphere of doom and gloom hanging over the Canadian contingent and keeps her away from well-meaning, but distracting well wishers.
"I've been to the village twice and I'm glad I'm here," said Brunet. "It's five or six minutes away by car and it's a big place. It would have been great to live in the village, but from a racing perspective, it's good to be here."
"In the village, the (Canadian) athletes are very down," said Furneaux. "Everybody is very disappointed.
We've got our own little focus. We'll do our best and hopefully the kayakers can bring home some gold and other medals for Canada."
Brunet has been amusing herself by following the fortunes of other Canadian athletes and was happy to see friends Nicolas Gill (judo) and Anne Montminy (diving) win medals.
She's also been surfing the Internet.
She knows this hasn't been a good Games for Canada.
She knows many Canadians are looking to her to salvage some pride and make the last day of competition a good one for Canada.
But none of those hopes or expectations can be any greater than those she has for herself.
"The only pressure I allow," she said, "is my own and it's more than enough."