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    Wednesday, February 18, 1998

    Short-changed sport gains respect

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
      Four years ago, they were ready to run short-track speed skating right out of the Olympics.
     The event at the 1994 Lillehammer Games was ripe with disqualifications, accusations, insinuations, tripping, flipping and clipping. The sport's image as roller derby on ice was certainly a deserving one to all on hand at the Hamar Viking Ship Arena.
      How things have changed.
     The atmosphere yesterday morning at the White Ring Arena for the opening of the Nagano Olympics short-track competition was everything Lillehammer was not.
     Sure, there were a few disqualifications, including Canadian world champion Marc Gagnon in his best event, the 1,000 metres.
     But there was nothing in the way of the circus-like atmosphere that marred the '94 Games.
     Montreal skater Christine Boudrias, part of the Canadian women's 3,000-metre relay team that won the bronze medal, summed up the relief of the skaters when she said: "This is more like it."
     Just one night before, during the ice-dance competition, White Ring had the feel of a Blue Jays game on seniors night. Even when the popular Canadian team of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz performed their sensational Riverdance number, the crowd's response was more polite than enthusiastic -- and the Canadians received the loudest ovation of the night.
     When the speed skaters took the ice yesterday, the atmosphere was absolutely charged.
     Flag-waving South Koreans gathered in one corner, ringing bells and horns alongside their cousins from North Korea. The Japanese and Chinese fans were also unusually loud and patriotic. The flags of the sport's most powerful nations -- South Korea, China, Japan, Canada and the U.S. -- were spread evenly throughout the place. A couple of young Canadians, their faces painted red and white, wandered about the rink blowing horns and waving the Maple Leaf, much to the delight of almost everyone else.
     Even the American fans spared the proceedings of the incessant chant of "USA! USA! USA!", in place of just nice, normal, loud cheering.
     All in all, it was a golden day for short track, and a beautifully bronzed day for Canada.