SEARCH 2000 Games

Sunday, September 13, 1998
PROFILE: Joanne Malar
The thrill isn't gone for Malar

By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Joanne Malar was shaking like a maple leaf.

Tears streamed down the face of Canada's first golden girl at the XVI Commonwealth Games as the flag went up and the sound of our national anthem filled the hot, muggy night air.

"I was shaking so hard when I was singing the words," she said of the moment.

"I knew I would cry. But I didn't think I would be shaking that much.

"Watching the flag go up and hearing the national anthem is my favourite thing in the world other than touching the wall to win.

"I know everyone back home is going to be in tears when they see me. It's probably one of the best feelings in the world. It makes me so proud to be a Canadian.

"I can't wait to call home and for my family to see that swim."

It has been a while since we've seen a Canadian swimmer like this. It has been a long, long while.

Canada hasn't won gold in the 400 metre individual medley at a major international Games since Leslie Cliff in 1974 in Christchurch. And I don't remember any Canadian any happier with the moment than the 22-year-old Calgarian who previously called Hamilton home.

Canada won only one gold in swimming four years ago in Victoria. The pool has been dry for Canada during the Australian title wave of recent years. And even Canadian coach Dave Johnson couldn't remember for sure the last time Canadians won gold-silver in an event or the last time a Canadian won a gold and followed up with another medal in the same evening at a major international Games.

But forget the facts. This night, first and foremost, was for feeling good.

Johnson was the advance man for the moment.

"Wait until you see her. She's over the moon."

The moon. And the planet Pluto.

This was a girl who was built up for a letdown at the Olympics in Atlanta. She choked in the morning qualifying in the same event at the Olympics, failing to make the final. And while she finished fourth in the 200 IM won by Irish druggie Michelle Smith, Malar came close to quitting.

"This is my third Commonwealth Games," she said. "I've never won a medal before.

"But walking out tonight I knew it was my time. I knew it was going to be my race.

"For the longest time I haven't had that self-confidence. Now I have it back. And I can't wait for the next two years and the Sydney Olympics.

"Being tough mentally makes the difference. I've always physically been able to make it to the podium. But I don't think I believed in myself totally. I think everybody else believed in me more than I believed in me."

It's a rebirth.

"The new me is the old me," she said.

"People tell me when I was young I would light up the pool deck. They say this is the way I used to be.

"For the past two years I wanted so badly to win an Olympic medal I put a lot of pressure on myself. I didn't enjoy everything. A lot of things changed in my life. I was doing commercials. That was a dream come true. But it was a lot for a 20 year old to deal with."

Now she has it together.

"And I know it can last another two years,'' she said.

She's happy, too, with a new coach and a new home town. Malar moved to Calgary to join coach Jan Bidrman. And the move has made for a Rocky Mountain high.

"I love it out there. It's my new home," she said and even suggested she loves it so much see may make the move permanent.

After swimming the event in 4:43.74 with Games rookie Elizabeth Warden of Scarborough behind her to win the silver, Malar climbed on the podium to accept her gold, marched back to the dressing room, stripped off her track suit and was back on the blocks to help Canada win a bronze in the 4x200 freestyle with teammates Laura Nicholls, Andrea Schwartz and Jessica Deglau.

"What you see now is what you get. She's full of life and exuberance.

"The level of competition at the Commonwealth Games is much higher than it's been in a long, long time. You win a gold medal here, you're in the top of the world."

Joanne Malar felt like she was on top of the world here last night.

"Awesome," she said. "I think it was my favourite day. And I've got five more to go."
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