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Thursday, September 21, 2000
Medal drought not really any mystery

By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

 Gentlemen, start your post-mortems. You can't hear the rumblings from halfway around the world but you can sense them: Canada is blowing the Olympics.

 That is the tenor of e-mails from home and comments here. Canada's large team, the thinking goes, has hit the competitive skids.

 But hold the phone a second. Who said Canada was going to be anywhere close to the 22-medal haul of the Atlanta Olympics four years ago?

 Second, unless the calendar is playing tricks on us, there are 12 days of competition left.

 To paraphrase Yogi Berra, events have not come to a conclusion until they've come to a conclusion.

 That said, the fall-off in hardware will be marked. Atlanta was the Canadian high-water mark for a non-boycotted Olympics and a reprise of that would be difficult at any time, near-impossible under the present circumstances.

 No Canadian federal government has ever made up its mind regarding sports culture, not like other governments around the world.

 Oh sure, in the run-up to the Montreal and Calgary Olympics -- even the Edmonton and Victoria Commonwealth Games -- sports programs got considerable financial juice.

 That was so our government would not be embarrassed on its own soil.

 Other countries have a coherent approach to amateur sports. They consider them important in the grand scheme of things and invest considerable money in their athletes, coaches and programs.

 This helps explain Australia's success over the years at both the elite level and in the pervasive recreation level you see every day hereabouts. It's a matter of priorities.

 Canada recently increased its funding of amateur sports by about $12 million, to close to $62 million. In comparison, Australia spends about $280 million on the same sports.

 Of any group within the larger Canadian contingent, the rowing team's spotty success to date has raised the most eyebrows. This is a group that secured more than a quarter of the Canadian medal haul at Atlanta.

 Women's coach Al Morrow is not as quick as others to come to any conclusions yet.

 "Don't count us out," Morrow said. "We can't win six medals. Atlanta was a dream. There, we had the McBeans and Heddles, athletes who come along every 20 to 30 years.

 "But we've qualified nine boats for the Olympics . . . I think the team is performing at a really high level right now and I wouldn't want to judge it too quickly."

 In amateur sport, just as in the pros, things go in cycles, he added. Moreover, the depth of competition, particularly on the women's side, has gotten deeper.

 That view helps explain the fall-off of Canadian fortunes so far these Olympic Games.

 Almost invariably, greater depth in other national sports programs is a direct result of the funding injected to run them.

 In Canada, there never has been a solid, sustained and cogent sports ideology. What is in for this four-year period could be out the next.

 Success begets imitation and that, too, is part of what is developing here.

 Canadian rowing has held a high global profile for some time and it doesn't take long for rivals to begin emulating the leaders.

 These Games are a long way from over, but the die is cast.

 In the end, it's up to the government, through the people that elect it, to decide whether sport is important or not.

 Time, to use the old fishing analogy, to fish or cut bait.
 Sport by Sport
PARALYMPICS
Purdy's golden moment
WRESTLING
IOC strips gold medal
TENNIS
Nestor's golden win hits home
BOXING
Harrison starts in Britain
WEIGHTLIFTING
Bulgarian coach resigns
TRACK & FIELD
Student suspended for e-mail threats
CANOE/KAYAK
Bridesmaid Brunet
PENTATHLON
Brit wins women's modern pentathlon
TRIATHLON
Simon's our man
BASKETBALL
Dream Team hangs on for another gold
WATER POLO
Hungary destroys Russia in title game
GYMNASTICS
Barsukova wins rhythmic gold in an upset
EQUESTRIAN
Wind dashes Millar's medal hopes
VOLLEYBALL
Yugoslavia beats Russia for gold
DIVING
Despatie arrives early
FIELD HOCKEY
Netherlands retains Olympic title
TAEKWONDO
Bosshart wins bronze in taekwondo
SYNCHRO
Ironic performance wins bronze
SAILING
Clarke retires after finishing 17th