By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
Not to sound like a sap, but one of the good things about Olympic sport is the friendship that athletes forge.
Members of Canada's boxing team, for instance, will be vacationing in Brisbane, Australia, after the Sydney Olympics, thanks to a friend on the Aussie team who is letting them use his house for free. That's the way it is in Olympic sport: One minute you're beating the crap out of a guy, the next, you're serving him beer, to go along with that favourite Australian culinary treat, more beer.
The Canadian track and field team will attend a pre-Olympic training camp at Couran Cove, a $150-million island resort on Australia's gorgeous Gold Coast, thanks to the friendship between head coach Brent McFarlane and former Aussie middle-distance star Ron Clarke, the resort's CEO.
Then there is the special relationship that has developed over the past few years between the Canadian swim team and the town of Cairns, in tropical north Queensland, next to the Great Barrier Reef.
Before the 1998 world swimming championships in Perth, Swimming Canada coach Dave Johnson and CEO Harold Cliff scouted for locations to stage the team before the 1999 Pan-Pacific championships in Sydney and the 2000 Olympics. They looked north to Cairns, although they almost pulled the plug on the idea after travelling up country in a monsoon. But after meeting civic leaders and Father Peter Laurence, principal of the Trinity Anglican School, which has a new state-of-the-art pool, it was decided that little Cairns would be the perfect staging point for the Canadian swimmers. And what a great choice it has been.
During the team's stay before the Pan-Pacs, the townsfolk were incredibly accommodating, virtually adopting them as their own. Gala receptions were organized, where Canadian stars Curtis Myden and Joanne Malar gave impassioned speeches, and the younger swimmers addressed the students at a school assembly.
"They were a great hit," said Father Peter, who has been instrumental in bringing the team into Cairns. "In fact, we couldn't separate our students from (the Canadian) team, especially our girl students from your male swimmers."
Father Peter said the town is eagerly anticipating the return of Malar, Myden & Co., in September. Several special events are being planned for the team, to go along with the hard training, including a city council reception and trips to the Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage tropical rain forests. Cairns also will be host of the Canadian Paralympic team and Trinity will make available its computer system and office supplies for the swim team.
"Cairns can't wait for the Canadians," Father Peter said. "We are people with the same heart. When we don't have (Australian swimmers) Susie O'Neill or Ian Thorpe in the water, be sure that we will be waving the red Maple Leaf."
FIVE-RING CIRCUS: A match against the U.S. in Cuba recently marked the 250th international cap for Canadian field hockey player Peter Milkovich, a milestone reached by very few players. The Vancouver native won his first cap (playing for Canada at the international level) in 1988 against Belgium and has taken part in two World Cups, three Pan American Games and one Commonwealth Games. Sydney will mark his second Olympics (the 1988 Seoul Games the first) ... Is Canadian freestyle wrestling star Daniel Igali pumped for the Olympics, or what? At a recent tournament in Austria, Igali, the first Canadian to win a world title in the sport, gave up a grand total of one point in four matches, while defeating all his opponents by 10 or more ... Sudbury sprinter Robert Esmie, the leadoff man for Canada's gold-medal winning 4x100-metre relay team at the 1996 Olympics, must be getting desperate in his bid to retain his position on the squad. Esmie, who has not run well for years, recently conducted his own poll, asking: "Who would you want on the first leg of your relay?" The results: Esmie was named on 100% of the ballots cast, over Donovan Bailey, Jon Drummond of the U.S. and Jason Gardener of the United Kingdom, even though all three of them run faster than Mr. Blast-Off does. Who would have thought it? ... The Russian track and field team will be shipped to Siberia before the Olympics, to the decaying Pacific port town of Vladivostok, where old Russian warships go to die. The idea of a training camp there apparently has not been met with overwhelming enthusiasm by the athletes. Imagine what will happen if they don't do well in Sydney?