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
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."