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Saturday, September 30, 2000

Foghorn gives Giles boost for bronze

 PENRITH LAKES, Australia -- When Steve Giles heard the sound, that unmistakable sound which cut through the wind and the cheering and the pain in his arms, he knew it was time.

 With about 350 metres to go in the men's C-1 1000-metre final, the 28-year-old heard the sound of the foghorn from the Senobe (N.S.) Canoe Club, a sound he's been hearing for 20 years.

 It came out of the grandstands at the International Regatta Centre and made its way to Giles' ears, just as it had on Lake Banook near Dartmouth since Giles was eight years old.

 He head been running fifth at the 500-metre mark and moved up to fourth at 750m, but the sound of the horn, which had been smuggled through Olympic security and into the stands by his personal cheering section, signalled it was time for a charge.

 "I heard the horn and I knew it was time to go," said Giles who surged ahead to capture the bronze medal, Canada's 11th medal of the Games (two gold, two silver and seven bronze).

 "The last 100 (metres), I thought my arms were going to fall off. I thought I was going to fall out of the boat," said Giles. "Then I looked over and saw I was third. Wow."

 The gold medal was won by Andreas Dittmer of Germany with a time of three minutes, 54.379 seconds while Ledys Frank Balceiro of Cuba was second in 3:56.071. Giles clocked a time of 3:56.437.

 The foghorn is a tradition at the Senobe club and though Giles is a member of the Orenda Canoe Club, the folks at Senobe have been blowing it for him for the last 10 years.

 Giles asked if he could bring it to Sydney and the horn, which he figures is about four feet long, was snuck onto the grounds Saturday.

 "It made it feel like home," he said.

 Maybe the sound of the foghorn came through the big screen TV back in Giles' hometown of Lake Echo, N.S., a small town with "a gas station, three convenience stores and a rec centre," as Giles put it. Family and friends were gathered around that big screen at the rec centre. If they heard it, they knew what would happen next.

 Keyed by the sound of the Senobe foghorn, Giles was digging just on adrenalin down the stretch, holding off France's Eric Le Leuch and holding at bay the feelings which have dogged him after each of his races at two previous Olympics.

 The feeling he had when he crossed those finish lines was one of disappointment, of not having done everything he could.

 "There's no way I wanted to feel that way again. I've been through that disappointment," he said, standing on a grassy knoll that overlooked the race course, his bronze medal around his neck.

 "I am just so happy."

 Giles had found a new peace this week. Working with his wife Angela and a sports psychologist, he managed to reduce the amount of stress he usually must manage during a regatta.

 It also helped that he was racing in only one race at these Olympics, the result of a deal he struck with Lac-Beauport, Que.'s Maxine Boilard, who will race in the C-1 500m Sunday.

 Boilard won the first 1000m and 500m first races in the best-of-three Olympic trials, but then injured his shoulder. Giles won the next two and Boilard came up with the idea of them splitting the third and final races so they could both qualify for the Olympics.

 Giles let the injured Boilard win the 500m in the trials.

 Concentrating on just one event, as it turned out, paid dividends for Giles.

 "(Racing in only one event) is something I had been thinking about all year," he said. "It was in the back of my mind. What I wanted to happen was for us to figure out what was our best chance for a medal. We talked a bit with each other and our coaches. This is the way it probably would have worked out anyway. This was the best thing for all of us.

 "I've done both races before for 10 years at the Olympics and world championships. Racing at a regatta every day for six days in a row really takes a lot out of you. The stress of all that racing was something I didn't want to have to deal with again. I felt good. I took three days off to rest."

 He also didn't have to worry about losing his groceries before the race, something that had become an unwelcome Olympic tradition.

 "This is my first Olympics where I didn't have to throw up before my race," he said. "I told my wife that's all I wanted, not to throw up.

 "The results mean less and less and they come easier and easier. It's kind of a Catch-22."

 He doubts he'll compete in another Olympics, choosing instead to finish his degree in electrical engineering to go with the science degree he's already earned in physics from Dalhousie University.

 Though he downplayed its significance, the bronze medal is a nice cap to what is probably the end of Giles' Olympic career, a career which has seen some incredible ups and downs. The 1998 world champion in the 1000m, he finished ninth last year while defending his title.

 Like he said, the results have come to mean less and less.

 He gestured down to the medal.

 "It's a lifetime. It's dedication. It's what I do with my life," he said. "I have a wife and the two of us do this. I'm not saying this makes it all worth it. The process is what's important."