SEARCH 2000 Games

Friday, August 7, 1998
PROFILE: Joanne Malar
Malar pooling her emotions

By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

Joanne Malar was training at the University of Calgary last April when word spread across the deck that Irish swimmer Michelle Smith finally had been nailed in a drug test.

"Everyone started cheering," Malar said yesterday after swimming the morning heats at the Maritime Life Nationals at the Etobicoke Olympium. "But I didn't know whether to cheer or cry."

The Hamilton swimmer still has trouble gauging her emotions, even after FINA, the international governing body of swimming, yesterday suspended Smith for four years.

If anyone deserves a good cry over the Michelle Smith saga, it's Malar. She is the direct opposite of a moper, but when she talks about drugs and the Olympics, there is a definite hint of pain, of betrayal, in her voice.

Heading into the 1996 Atlanta Olympics -- the Games where the previously mediocre Smith rocked the swim world by winning three gold medals -- Malar was considered Canada's best chance for a medal in the pool.

The pressure was on for Malar to perform and, to her credit, she wore the "great medal hope" label admirably. Sadly, the medal-winning performance wasn't there. Malar's best showing was a fourth in the 200-metre individual medley, one of the events Smith captured.

As most Olympic athletes will tell you, fourth is the absolute worst finish possible, the old "so close, yet so far" scenario. And to place one spot out of a medal in an event won by a suspected, now convicted, drug user? Well, it's understandable why Malar calls 1996 an emotional roller-coaster ride.

Malar admits that winning a medal probably would have made a big difference in her life. Medals translate into fame, fame into money and opportunity.

Look what happened at the 1976 Montreal Games. Canada put together a formidable women's swim team -- a team that, in retrospect, deserved a much better fate. It was a team of petite schoolgirls that, carrying the burden of massive expectations, was swept aside by an East German juggernaut. The East Germans didn't have to name battleships after women; their battleships were women.

Many East German swimmers since have admitted using banned drugs, but in '76 they stole the thunder from Canada as the host nation. The Montreal Games might have been Canada's finest hour athletically. Instead, Canada will be remembered as the first host nation not to win a gold medal.

Now grande dames of the Canadian swim team, Malar and Marianne Limpert, who finished second in the Atlanta 200 individual medley, are looking toward the 2000 Sydney Olympics with renewed confidence and a slightly increased sense of optimism that FINA finally is cracking down on drug use.

Limpert, 25, admitted that losing the gold to a convicted drug cheat is a tough pill to swallow.

"I was hoping (Smith) would be there in Sydney," said Limpert, a native of Matagami, Que. "It doesn't matter what's going on. I want to face her again."
Joanne Malar in the news
Malar, Limpert a contrast in styles
Malar finishes seventh in 400 IM
Happier Malar ready for Sydney
Malar in pictures
7th in Sydney
Kisses for her fans
Reacting to her time
Thumbs up, new uniform
With Mike
Celebrating a win
Bronze 4x200m team
Blowing a kiss
Backstroke practice