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    Friday, February 20, 1998

    Annie get your gold

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

      Annie Perreault quit her job at the Sherbrooke fish market last April to concentrate full time on her short-track speed skating career.
     That move definitely paid off as the retiring skater landed the biggest catch of all yesterday -- an Olympic gold medal.
      It was her second medal of these Games. On Tuesday, Perreault helped the Canadian women's 3,000-metre relay team capture a bronze medal at the White Ring Arena.
     Yesterday, she took advantage of an unfortunate slip by her friend and teammate Isabelle Charest to capture the gold in the women's 500-metre event, in a time of 46.568 seconds -- a record 14th medal for Canada at a Winter Games. Charest, the 1996 world champion in the event, cut inside with just over two laps remaining, but slipped on a block and took both herself and Chinese skater Wang Chunlu, who was leading the race, out of contention.
     Perreault, a native of tiny Rock Forest, Que., near Sherbrooke, then took the lead and crossed the finish line with her fist in the air. Charest, 27, was disqualified and Wang could not finish the race. The silver went to Yang Yang of China, who slipped early in the event, while the bronze went to B final winner Chun Lee-Kyung of Korea.
     "There were just two laps to go and I had to finish my race," Perreault said of the crash which unfolded ahead of her. "I couldn't think of anything else, just go fast, keep my speed and keep my place."
     After crossing the finish line, Perreault skated to her coach, her sister Maryse. The two hugged and cried for a couple minutes before Annie took the Canadian flag for a few laps around the ice.
     For Perreault, it was literally a dream come true.
     "In my dreams, I saw myself crossing the finish line with my hands in the air," she said. "It's like I'm dreaming right now. I hope I don't wake up."
     Perreault's is a classic story of triumph overcoming adversity. The 1996 world 500-metre silver medallist, behind Charest, almost had been knocked out of the sport on several occasions. Last September, she underwent surgery on both legs to relieve the pressure the muscles were putting on her tibia. She missed 15 days of training because of the operations.
     A natural athlete who won a bronze medal with the Quebec soccer team at the Canada Games, Perreault, 26, suffered a concussion in 1994 and missed the Lillehammer Olympics. She also failed to make the team last year because of various personal and physical problems.
     On top of everything else, Perreault, a member of the Canadian women's gold-medal relay team at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, had been overshadowed by Charest, who is one of the most popular female athletes in Quebec.
     "She's worked really, really, really hard for this," her sister said. "She really deserves this."