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    Saturday, February 7, 1998

    Just being there provides a golden moment

    By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
      NAGANO -- This was for them. Not the people carrying the flags. Not the closeups you saw on your television screen. Not for the medallists who were talked about.
     This was for every kid who ever had a dream, every Olympic athlete who never won a medal. Those were their songs being played last night, their colors bright, their smiles even brighter.
     More than 2,000 athletes from around the world took part in the parade and the show at Minami Nagano Sports Park, and most of them will come home with memories, but not a medal.
     Everyone one of them has a story to tell, almost all of them compelling. Most of those stories will not be told once the medal chase begins. The Olympics, when stripped of its commercialism, its autocracy and its never-ending logistical problems, is still best when it's about its people.
     Nikki Keddie is a biathlete from North York who never allowed herself belief in the Olympic dream.
     The road was too long, the trip too hard. She began cross-country skiing as a teenager, and then someone showed her how to shoot a rifle. The more she tried, the better she got. Then she wrote to a coach in Calgary, who sent her training videotapes in the mail.
     Nikkie Keddie worked her way to the Olympics by correspondence course.
     One time, while participating in the Canada Winter Games, she was given a questionnaire to fill out. She was asked what her dream was.
     "I know what they wanted me to write," the 23-year-old said. "They wanted me to write Olympics. But I left it blank. I remember back then thinking, 'I can't get to the Olympics. The Olympics is too hard.' "
     Yesterday, wearing Canadian colors, Nikki Keddie marched in the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. She will not win a medal here. She won't even be close.
     "What do you remember when you watch the Olympics on TV? You remember the opening ceremony. I'm going to remember this. This is my Olympic moment. I'm going to remember this forever."
     Laura Schuler is from Scarboro and didn't think she would be here.
     She tore up her knee playing hockey not that long ago. The doctors told her to forget Nagano. It was her anterior cruciate ligament.
     "They said I wouldn't be going to the Olympics," the 27-year-old defenceman said. "But I couldn't think that way. I wouldn't allow it. I wasn't going to let that stand in front of my dreams. Plus, I'm the type of person who never takes the easy route anywhere.
     "I'm just so happy to be here."
     She could have rested yesterday but instead she walked, wearing a brace on her knee, in the opening ceremony, as women's hockey officially walked into the Olympics.
     "I'm just so happy to be here," she said. "I'm just ecstatic. I know it sounds cliche, but for women's hockey players, this really is a dream come true.
     "This is something I've been waiting for my whole life."
     Neal Marshall is from Coquitlam, just outside Vancouver, and this is his third and last Olympic Games. And the truth is, he didn't think there would be a third time.
     Just a few months ago, he had lost his place on the Olympic team, a casualty of ill health and his worsening asthma condition.
     Marshall couldn't race in the Olympic trials. But then afterward, his teammate and friend Jeremy Wotherspoon made a decision. Wotherspoon wouldn't race in three speed-skating disciplines. He would concentrate on two.
     Some think Wotherspoon did it for himself. Some think he did it to find an Olympic place for Neal Marshall.
     "It was a nervous time," said Marshall. "I think Jeremy had to make the decision that was right for him. I'm just grateful he announced it early. It gave me enough time to prepare mentally and physically for my race."
     With his girlfriend, Susan Auch, marching just behind the Canadian flag bearer -- this is her fourth Olympics -- Neal Marshall walked a few rows back. His younger brother, Kevin, was beside him.
     "The opening ceremony is the most patriotic moment you'll ever experience. It's a feeling I can't describe, but it's a feeling I love. This is my last Olympics and that makes this all the more special.
     "I had such a tough time just trying to get here, and I can't forget that. I'm going to enjoy every moment of these Games."
     The music played, the athletes marched. The warmth on a winter's day in Japan was everywhere.