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Friday, September 29, 2000

Boilard blasts to first in heat

 PENRITH LAKES, Australia -- It wasn't a final. There was no podium to climb, no anthems to be heard, no flags to be raised.

 But for canoeist Maxime Boilard of Lac-Beauport, Que., winning the semifinal of the men's C-1 500m Friday and crossing a finish line first at the Olympics will pay its own dividends.

 Boilard advances to the final Sunday, helping the Canadian canoeists and kayakers to what is shaping up as one of their best Olympic Games ever.

 Boilard became the sixth Canadian boat to qualify for the finals in both disciplines Saturday and Sunday.

 "I'm just excited to be racing in the final," said Boilard. "I know the names of all the guys in the last five Olympics who have made it to the final. You become someone if you make it to final in Olympic canoeing and I'm now part of those guys.

 "Before the race, Plan A was to make it to the final and if I did, I'd be really, really happy. It's such a strong field. Any of the nine guys could have (won the semi) and I'm glad I'm the guy who took it."

 "This is going to be very important for him mentally," said Frederic Jobin, the coach of the 22-year-old Olympic rookie.

 "It's not just important for Sunday, but for his career. To cross a finish line first at the Olympics, whether it's a heat or a semifinal is going to do a lot of good for his confidence.

 "That was a strong field. There were seven medalists there from the world championships or Olympics. To beat those guys means something."

 Boilard got off to a slow start, but by the halfway point of the race had moved into the lead. He held it until the end, holding off Bulgaria's Nikolay Bouhalov and the Ukraine's Mykhalo Slivinskyy.

 Those three advanced to the final. Boilard clocked one minute, 52.071 seconds to 1:52.371 for Bouhalov and 1:52.461 for Slivinskyy.

 "I could have had a better start," said Boilard. "In my heat, I went hard at the beginning and I had nothing at the end. This time I wanted to just stay with the guys and save something for the end and make sure I made it to the final.

 "I could see the guys on both sides of me and it was just perfect. With 150 metres to go, I could see I was in the lead and I got a little too excited and started to slow down. I said to myself, 'why are you doing this?' I told myself to stay calm and keep going."

 Boilard showed his strength in the race. He might not be able to achieve the same top speed as some of the other boats, but he is capable of sustaining his top speed longer than most.

 That Boilard was in a position to win the semifinal is an interesting story in itself. He was battling veteran Olympian Steve Giles for the berths at the Olympic trials.

 In the first round of their best 2-out-3 competition, Boilard won both the C-1 500m and C-1 1000m events.

 But before the second round occurred about a month later, Boilard injured his shoulder and could not compete. Giles won both.

 Now tied, Boilard offered a deal to Giles. The only reason Giles was in the competition was because of Boilard's injury.

 Could they not split the third and final races and both go to the Olympics?

 Giles agreed, allowing Boilard to win the 500m, and now both are here.

 "It's not mission accomplished yet," said Jobin. "But to be in the final in his first Olympics is great for his future."