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Wednesday, September 27, 2000

We're setting bad example

  SYDNEY -- Oh, but to never have to read another story about Donovan Bailey, millionaire running recluse now recuperating in plush seclusion in his rented Australian digs.

 Same goes for Bruny Surin, who, like Bailey, has yet to announce whether he will run in the 4x100-metre relay. The rest of the team -- Glenroy Gilbert, Nicolas Macrozonaris, Pierre Browne and Brad McCuaig -- wait and stew with the rest of us.

 Surin's hamstring injury and Bailey's viral infections are legitimate. It's their conduct that reeks.

 Goodbye Bruny, goodbye Donovan, and thanks for the memories. Goodbye Joanne Malar, Canadian swimming's great false hope. Her lovely features once graced cereal boxes. She had a face but, alas, not the stomach for victory.

 Good luck in law school, Anne Montminy, who opted for a sure bronze medal when she could have won a gold with a harder dive. Minimizing risk is the lawyer's job. Montminy will make a splendid one.

 In Sydney, we have been stopped by nerves, luck and injuries but when you deliver elite athletes in minivans instead of caravans, you will be made to pay the price every two years, in front of the world and a disbelieving audience back home. The big problem with having so few Olympic medallists? You have no one to carry your heart when the designated heroes reveal feet of clay.

 Canadian Olympic Association head Bill Warren is right when he says the secret to a renewed athletic respectability isn't medals but a solid pool of podium candidates. The little bit of depth we do have led to the most splendid Canadian surprise of the Games, Simon Whitfield's remarkable win in the men's triathlon.

 If we are to emulate the Australians, whose successes are not at all out of reach, we must first embrace their belief in producing not just one elite athlete, but generations of them.

 Ian Thorpe, just 17, is the new heir to Kieren Perkins as the country's most captivating swimmer. But 20-year-old Grant Hackett beat Perkins by two body lengths to claim the Olympic gold and the title of king of the 1,500 metres.

 It is the depth of character shown by the Australians that is most worthy of our respect. Runner Cathy Freeman is a symbol of aboriginal and Australian dignity. She is, in every way, the model Olympian. Thorpe is unaffected and sincere. Same for Hackett and Susie O'Neill, who won four swimming medals.

 These athletes don't just set a successful standard, they set a humane one. And that is the product of a system that, while loaded with demands, at least spreads them around widely. Heavier subsidies for amateur athletes, not podium bonuses, are the answer. Putting results ahead of all else got us Ben Johnson. Now it has got us Donovan and Bruny.

 DIGNITY

 There is a dignity in being a working athlete who can train without subjecting herself or her family to poverty. And that is what we want, Canadians of whom we can be proud.

 We need an immediate doubling of the $60 million set aside for our amateur athletes. The Australians skim the money from slot machines. We have slots, casinos and a budget surplus to plunder.

 That money should be invested in a better national carding system, competitive programs and a new harmonization between sport agencies and schools to allow not just our best, but our developing athletes, to resist the lure of American scholarships.

 Give our athletes a level playing field and they will make us proud. We don't need millionaires, we need athletes. Because if this Olympics teaches us anything, it's that one Simon Whitfield or Caroline Brunet is worth 10 Donovan Baileys.