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  • Tuesday, September 15, 1998

    Canadian guides Malaysian synchro team

    BY JIM MORRIS -- Canadian Press
     KUALA LUMPUR (CP) -- Hearing Canada's national anthem during the synchronized swimming duet awards ceremony stirred mixed emotions in Leslie Sproule on Tuesday.
     The veteran coach was thrilled Kasia Kulesza, of Laval, Que., and Jacinthe Taillon, of St-Eustache, Que., had continued Canada's Commonwealth Games domination of the sport.
     But Sproule would have been just as happy if the Malaysian team she now coaches had taken the gold.
     "When I'm here I'm doing my job and working with the Malaysian athletes and I feel real proud if they have a good performance," said Sproule, who coached for 15 years in Edmonton.
     Swimming to the music from Lord of the Dance, Taillon and Kulesza easily won the competition with 93.824 points. Australia was second with 91.077 and England third at 87.130.
     The Malaysian pair of Jacquelyn Chan and Hazrina Sofian finished last in the four-team event with 82.467 points.
     Valerie Hould-Marchand, a Grade 12 student from Quebec City who trains in Calgary, won the solo competition Monday.
     Canada has won eight synchronized gold medals since the sport made its Games debut in 1986 at Edinburgh.
     The pressure of keeping the streak alive helped stoke the fires for Taillon and Kulesza.
     "We came in here with a new program," said Kulesza, 22, whose father, a weightlifter, and mother, a gymnast, both represented Poland in Olympic competitition.
     "We were putting the pressure on ourselves because we wanted to make a really good performance. Nobody is proud of a medal you didn't deserve."
     The pair has been together for just two years but already has two national titles and now a Commonwealth gold to its credit.
     "We were aiming for this coming here," said Taillon, 21. "You never know how great it feels until you see a Canadian flag going up the first position.
     "It was just amazing."
     Putting the Malaysians in the same pool as the Canadians was like sending a flyweight into the ring against Mike Tyson.
     While the Canadians glided through the water, the Malaysians plodded. The Canadian routine painted a dramatic picture, the Malaysians sketched an image.
     But to Sproule, her young team is like a handful of stones waiting to be buffed into diamonds. She noted most of the swimmers are juniors competing against senior-aged competitors.
     "For them to be five or six points behind is really good considering they are often eight to 10 years younger," said Sproule. "Most of the swimmers at this competition have had 12 or 14 years swimming experience.
     "These two have had three or four years. For the amount of time they have been doing the sport they've come a long way."
     Four years ago the Malaysian government asked Sproule to build a synchronized program in time for these Games.
     Joined by two Canadian swimmers and two judges, she started collecting airline points by commuting to a part-time job half way across the world.
     "We started with demonstrations," she said. "The next visit we did some clinics to get some coaches interested in teaching some swimmers.
     "I've just been coming back periodically since then, helping them along the way."
     Taillon said the Malaysians show potential.
     "They've only been introduced to the sport but the improvement has been amazing," she said. "They're moving up really fast and I can see them as good competition for the future."
     Kulesza said the sport needs new blood.
     "The development of the sport is really important," she said. "We need that competition to keep wanting to get better.
     "If there's no competition it's no fun."

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