Monday, February 23, 1998
Clear the track: here comes Canada
The largest Canadian star of the Winter Olympic Games was the speed-skating team.
It gave Canada nine of its 15 medals. If it had been a nation on its own, the speed skating team would have beaten 61 of the 72 countries here.
And the strength was in both long-track and short-track speed skating.
"We came here knowing we had one of the strongest teams in the world and proved that,'' said Catriona Le May Doan, who won gold and bronze and carried Canada's flag in the closing ceremony yesterday.
It wasn't simply the individual performances but the depth of the team that was so impressive.
On the long-track side, Le May Doan won gold in the 500 metres and then bronze in the 1,000. Susan Auch finished second in the women's 500, the first time Canadians had finished 1-2 in an Olympic event.
But, perhaps more than in any event, the men's 500 metres proved how strong and deep the team was. Jeremy Wotherspoon won the silver medal and Kevin Overland took the bronze. But that wasn't all. Sylvain Bouchard was fourth and Patrick Bouchard fifth.
"I don't know what impressed me more,'' Canadian speed skating coach Derrick Auch said. "Having four in the top five of an Olympic event or having five (long-track) medals from four different athletes.''
The two biggest losses after the Games are the eventual retirement of Susan Auch, a two-time Olympic medallist, and the departure of her brother the coach, who will begin putting his law degree to work after the Olympics.
"Losing Derrick is a great loss to this program,'' team psychologist Cal Botterill said. "Unless you've been around, you can't possibly understand how important he has been to the success of the team.''
The number of short-track medals was not necessarily a surprise, but the winners were.
Isabelle Charest, a favorite in the women's races, didn't win an individual medal while Annie Perreault won gold in the 500 metres. The same was true in the men's event where Marc Gagnon was a large favorite but Eric Bedard won bronze.
The other two medals -- one gold and one bronze -- came from the men's and women's relay teams, respectively.
The four medals in short track represent a high for Canada. The team had no more than three in the previous two Games.