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Sunday, October 1, 2000

Woe, Canada?

All the news from Sydney wasn't bad ... it just seemed that way


  SYDNEY -- Conrad Leinemann is the sporting version of the cool Canadian -- a beach volleyball player whose bleached good looks have made him a favourite of young female fans.

 But a few minutes after he and partner Jody Holden lost to a German duo last week, Leinemann was explaining how his team couldn't battle back from a 13-6 deficit.

 "When you dig yourself a deep hole, sometimes you can't get out," he said. "Sorry, Canada."

 Out of the mouths of babes ...

 In all, 311 athletes wore our colours in Sydney. They met with disasters of nearly every stripe en route to a disappointing medal total, but you can't say they didn't try.

 It was just those danged holes.

 Name a pitfall. We hit it.

 Bad luck: None worse than Carol Montgomery's crash on the first day of the Games. Through no fault of her own, the North Vancouver triathlete and medal candidate was knocked out of the triathlon and the 10,000-metre run.

 Cheapness: Track officials, despite the warnings of their athletes, chose to save a few dollars and bring only two spares for the men's 4x100-metre relay. When three starters were knocked out by injury and illness, the team sent to defend the gold medal won in Atlanta finished sixth in the semi-final.

 Age: The veteran 30-member rowing team returned with just one bronze, in the women's eight.

 Shock: By the gallon. Track-cycling medal candidate Tanya Dubnicoff of Winnipeg lost in the sprint quarter-final. Our respected boxing team went 3-7 and no one got to fight more than twice. Even in the NHL they let you fight three times before you're tossed. World champion whitewater kayak racer Dave Ford didn't even qualify for the final.

 Drug addiction: Equestrian Eric Lamaze was thrown off the Canadian team twice. First, for an innocent mistake in which he took a supplement whose ingredients had been changed by the manufacturer. The second offence, a relapse of his cocaine use, did him in. Eric: If you're going to get tossed for drugs, at least flunk a test for something that helps you perform. Even Ben Johnson understood that.

 Locusts, walls of flames, crashing walls: None reported, but we're still waiting.

 The phantom virus: The failure of Donovan Bailey, 1996 Olympic champion in the 100 metres, stands as the biggest disaster. Bailey, still on the mend from a potentially career-ending Achilles tendon injury, was widely reported to be sick. He pulled up short in the 100 quarter-final and did not participate in the men's relay. He was not too sick, however, to party at a hot spot favoured by Canadians. "This hurts man," Bailey said after his walkaway. "I was the king." Key word: Was.

 Procrastination: Surin, but especially Bailey, waited far too long to announce their withdrawals from the relay.

 Self actualization: Hamilton swimmer Joanne Malar, a medal hope, finished fifth in the 200-metre individual medley and seventh in the 400 IM, before announcing she wanted to join the same media she had slagged a few minutes earlier. Malar is a fine young woman who speaks as if she has been watching Oprah all her life. She did not know why everyone was expecting so much of her. If her career plans pan out, she will soon.

 Going into the final day of the Games, we stood behind Belarus and Ethiopia in the medal race.These are our worst games, medal-wise, since Seoul in 1988 and our biggest non-Ben Johnson disappointment since we managed zero gold medals at Montreal in 1976.

 We sent 41 track and field athletes to the Games. They will return home with bupkus, although the depleted men's relay team showed remarkable grit in making the semi-final despite injuries and Kevin Sullivan's fifth in the 1,500 is a major accomplishment.

 Calgary's Curtis Myden, a bronze-medal winner in the 400 IM, was the only member of the 39-member swim team to win a medal.

 Fifteen Canadian cyclists managed a fifth-place finish between them. That was provided by mountain biker Alison Sydor, of Victoria, a silver medallist four years ago in Atlanta.

 There were bright spots.

 Simon Whitfield, a 25-year-old from Kingston who has been training in Australia, won the first men's Olympic triathlon race. Whitfield is a wonderful kid who told the story of his life earnestly and with great conviction.

 Canadian tennis pros Sebastien Lareau of Boucherville, Que., and Toronto's Daniel Nestor upset the favoured Aussies in four sets to win gold in the doubles.

 Wrestler Daniel Igali didn't disappoint in the 69-kg freestyle class, living up to his billing to take the gold.

 The unheralded Canadian men's basketball team went 4-1 in round-robin play, before losing to France and ending up seventh. Point guard Steve Nash was spectacular and, were it not for Lithuania's near upset of the U.S. Dream Team, the Canadian men would have been the story of the tournament.

 Montrealer Nicolas Gill won a silver medal in men's judo.

 Karen Cockburn of Toronto and Mathieu Turgeon of Unionville won bronze on the trampoline despite the usual difficulties with judging panels skewered toward eastern European athletes.

 Quebecers Anne Montminy of Pointe-Claire and Emilie Heymans of Greenfield Park won silver in the synchro dive and Montminy won bronze in the individual 10-metre event.

 But in the wake of the disaster, Canadians will look at how they fund their amateur athletes. The Games are over.

 Now it's time to figure out how many loonies it will take to fill the holes that suddenly became visible after 16 days in Sydney.