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    Sunday, December 14, 1997

    Speed skater picking it up

    By STEPHEN WICKENS -- Toronto Sun
    It was three steps in the right direction yesterday, but nowhere near enough to answer people asking: What's the deal with Neal?
     It's no surprise that Canada's long-track speed skaters have been rewriting the record book and hoarding precious World Cup medals this year, but Neal Marshall of Coquitlam, B.C., had been expected by many to lead the charge.
     Marshall, who came into the season as the world-record holder in the 1,500 metres, struggled again in his specialty yesterday, finishing a season-best 10th at a World Cup meet.
     "I'm not panicking, yet, I've got time to pick it up before Nagano," Marshall said from Hamar, Norway. "It's an improvement but I'm disappointed."
     Marshall, who finished 13th in each of his first two World Cup races, had no excuse yesterday. "It was little things with my technique, little things that cost you speed early on and sap your energy for late in the race."
     Marshall, who in 1994-95 became the first Canadian to win a World Cup overall title and who was second the past two seasons, is usually strong early in the season.
     "It's been a rough trip," he said. "(Two weeks ago in Berlin) I didn't feel good -- jet lag."
     That was the weekend his world record was eclipsed twice, first by Ids Postma of the Netherlands, then by Kitchener's Kevin Overland, who didn't race this weekend.
     Marshall said he had bad luck last week in Neerenveen, Netherlands. "I stripped a blade just before the race and couldn't push off on the turns."
     Marshall, 28, who is into carpentry, drumming and motorcycles in his spare time, has had to amuse himself with a Nintendo Game Boy between races in recent weeks. "You could say I'm anxious to get on the plane, yeah."
     He flies home tomorrow to rejoin girlfriend Susan Auch and the rest of the national team to prepare for the Canadian Olympic trials at Calgary in two weeks.
     In the women's 3,000 yesterday, Cindy Overland of Kitchener placed fifth in the second-seed group, but her time of 4:19.17 set a Canadian record. Claudia Pechstein of Germany won and set a world record of 4:07.13.