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    Friday, February 20, 1998

    Bright future for Canada's skaters

    By DAN RALPH -- The Canadian Press
     NAGANO, Japan (CP) -- Susan Auch's Olympic experience is complete.
     For years, the Winnipeg native was has been Canada's best -- and pretty much only -- long-track speed skater of note. But with the emergence of Saskatoon's Catriona Le May Doan and young men's stars like Kevin Overland of Kitchener, Ont., and Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., Auch says she can finish her Olympic career without concern for the team's future.
     "We have a real team now and the good news is a lot of these skaters are still so young," said Auch, 31, completing her fourth and final Winter Olympics. "I think their best is still to come. The future looks really good."
     The present doesn't look too shabby either.
     Canadian long-track speed skaters captured five medals at the Nagano Games -- one gold, two silver, two bronze. That's better than a third of Canada's total of 14 heading into the last day of competition.
     "Winning this many medals and having four different long-track speed skaters win I think shows that speed skating is on track," said Canadian coach Derrick Auch, Susan Auch's brother. "Now I think we need the rest of the corporate sponsors to come help us out.
     "We've started to get some sponsors but with a little bit more money I think we're going to be even better."
     Le May Doan has emerged as Auch's heir apparent.
     The 27-year-old established Olympic records in both runs en route to winning the women's 500-metre event.
     Then, after placing 13th in the 1,500 and losing her world record in the event, Le May Doan finished her second Winter Olympics with a bronze medal in the 1,000 metres.
     "I couldn't have ever envisioned this," Le May Doan said. "As athletes we do a lot of visualization, but when it actually happens, it's a thrill.
     "I can't describe the feeling of being on the medal podium and hearing the Canadian national anthem. It's just incredible."
     The future looks bright for the men's program, as well.
     Wotherspoon and Overland -- the silver and bronze medallists, respectively, in the 500-metre event -- are just 21 and 23. And both Patrick Bouchard of Cap-Rouge, Que., and Sylvain Bouchard of Loretteville, Que., (no relation) are just 24 and 27.
     "It's a very young team," Derrick Auch said. "If we can continue to improve, I think we'll be in really decent shape for Salt Lake City in 2002."
     Both Le May Doan and Overland credit the national team's training facility in Calgary for its meteoric rise.
     "We can train all year round, we can work on technique and not have to worry about the weather factors," Le May Doan said. "That's a big part of the success."
     Added Overland: "Everything is there for us. When you see the oval it's such a magnificent facility and it's great to train there. I mean we have stretching mats and everyone stretches together. It's just such a great feeling just to be able to talk before and after skating.
     "Even the lighting is great. You go to other facilities, like Milwaukee, the lighting isn't nice, it's very dismal. It's not like that in Calgary. They've put the little extras in to make us feel better. It's a pleasure to train there."
     And Le May Doan says having team members together year-round has built an co-operative atmosphere that breeds success.
     "We help each and and it just shows what can happen in an individual sport if you have a team atmosphere. Derrick has worked so well with all of us and I think we've just, for the first time, been supportive of each other and the results show that.
     "And for the next few years to come we'll expect even more."