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    Tuesday, February 10, 1998

    Hero Bedard falls from grace

    By CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun
      TOYOSATO, Nozawa Onsen -- Myriam Bedard is clearly now on the steep slope of the downward half of a brilliant career in biathlon, the two-time gold-medal winner from four years ago buried by a heavy blanket of snow and almost three-quarters of the field in the 15-kilometre individual biathlon.
     Four years ago, when she was powering her way to the top of the world in Lillehammer, there was nothing in her sight but a podium finish.
     This time around, in driving snow on a course snaking through blunt mountains, all she could think about was finishing.
     "I'm happy I finished, that I didn't quit," said Bedard, whose poor choice of wax and skis, two years of health problems and a diminishing fire slipped all the way to 50th.
     "I feel very horrible. They were very tough conditions for gliding. It was like I had glue under my skis. After five kilometres, I was dying."
     As she stood near the finish line, the big scoreboard flashed before Bedard's eyes, each update pushing her farther down the field.
     So much has happened since Lillehammer, the events perhaps having as much to do with her disappointing finish as a poor choice of skis and wax or an unreliable weather report.
     Since her double triumph in Norway, Bedard got married and had a daughter and training gave way to her second career as a spokesperson and motivational speaker, two pursuits, given her wide, piercing eyes and charming, gap-toothed smile, to which she is well suited.
     There were struggles, too. She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and a year ago doctors discovered she was allergic to a number of foods.
     Perhaps the fire that propelled her to her gold medal performances in Norway had dulled. She found a way to bring herself to Nagano, here to a course through towering pines, perhaps to give it one last try in the 15 km.
     The driving snow, which had abated by the end of the event, turned the race into a "casino," said Bedard. And nothing she played came up a winner.
     "First it was a very puffy snow. Then it was a snow that just sucked at your skis. You couldn't predict what was going to happen. The course changed, but you couldn't do anything about it. These are your skis for the race. You can't change them. Some were luckier than others. This is what I had and I couldn't do anything."
     Bedard looked up and fixed the scoreboard with those blue eyes and saw the race had been won by Ekaterina Dafovska of Bulgaria in a time of 54 minutes and 52 seconds flat, which included a one-minute penalty for missing one target in the shooting portion of the event.
     Dafovska was tied with Bedard in 51st place in the World Cup standings entering the race.
     "If you look at the board, you'll see it was not the best skiers who won," she said. "None of the last three world champions are in the top three. Look for the best last year or the year before. None of them are there.
     "Four years ago might have been the best for me. But there are people in the best shape of their life right now who are not on the podium. It happens once in a while. It's all part of the game."
     Bedard has a point. Magdelena Forsberg of Sweden, the current World Cup leader, finished 14th.
     Bedard, whose time of one hour, two seconds and 44.1 seconds included three minutes in penalties for three missed targets, wound up 10 spots ahead of Toronto's Nikki Keddie who clocked in at 1:08:46.5, which included five minutes for missed targets.
     Keddie had been battling a head cold which moved into her lungs the last couple of days.
     "It was hard skiing and quite slow," she said. "I was wheezing a bit. I'm not particularly happy with the result. It could have been a lot better if I had been 100%."
     There will be other races for Bedard before these Games are over, but she will have to live with the 15-km result.
     Years from now, the record book will show the two-time gold medallist had almost dropped off the earth.
     "Five years from now, people will look back and wonder, 'how did she do so bad?' They won't remember the conditions. They won't be able to see the reason why.
     "I will have to live with the fact that on paper, it's a bad result."