Canadians in tough to match Atlanta totals
By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
MONTREAL -- Medals will be harder to come by for Canadian athletes at the Sydney Olympics than they were four years ago, but no one will have a problem finding an interpreter.
While the purpose of yesterday's Canadian Olympic Association media conference at the downtown Montreal Roots store was to announce the flag-bearer and introduce some of the 309 athletes who will wear the Maple Leaf in Sydney, amateur sport poohbahs made two other things clear:
- The 22 medals won at the 1996 Atlanta Games almost certainly will not be matched.
- Everything, from speeches to presentations, will be conducted equally in English and French.
The COA came under fire at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics when a kickoff celebration for Canadian athletes was conducted almost exclusively in English. Denis Coderre, the federal sports minister, vowed there would be no language flap in Sydney.
"You know why I (said) that? Because I was proud today," Coderre said after the two-language presentation. "I think everything is in order now. The name of game is partnership, the name of the game is communication, the name of the game is to make sure we're all in the same boat. I feel in two or three years we've improved a lot."
The same can't be said for the team. While Canada certainly has a couple of gold-medal hopes, including kayaker Caroline Brunet (the flag-bearer), wrestler Daniel Igali and sprinter Bruny Surin, financial cutbacks by the federal government in recent years likely will mean fewer trips to the podium. Atlanta was the best Olympics for Canada in a non-boycotted Games, and a major reason for that success was an increase in funding during the 1980s. For most of the '90s, cutbacks were the order of the day, although Coderre is determined to reverse that trend.
"(But) do we care about the number of medals?" Coderre asked yesterday. "No matter if they win medals, there will be life after Sydney. We have 309 kids who will achieve one of their dreams, to be there with the best. If they win medals, good, I'm going to be there to cheer. If they don't, they are (still) true ambassadors of this great nation."
Chef de mission Diane Jones Konihowski refused to speculate on the number of medals Canada will win.
"That puts tremendous pressure on the athletes," said Konihowski, a former member of Canada's track-and-field team. "(Only the media) count medals. All you can hope for is to go there and do a personal best. My goal is to provide an environment to allow the athletes to do their best. With that, Canada will see a few medals.
"Budget cutbacks don't kill desire within an athlete. An athlete who wants to win will do it regardless."
The COA also unveiled the Roots clothing line Canadian athletes will don in Sydney, including a hockey-sweater podium jersey.