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    Sunday, February 8, 1998

    Canadian Wotherspoon confident

    By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
      NAGANO -- Jeremy Wotherspoon knows what the past few months have done to his life.
     It has made him a celebrity. It has made him a name. It has made him one of Canada's brightest hopes for a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
     And he wouldn't have it any other way.
     "Jeremy's really getting into what he's accomplished in the past year," said Derrick Auch, his speed skating coach. "You just look at him and you see how confident he feels. It's like growing taller and stronger every day. There's something about him right now, you can just feel it from him. He's ready. And he really wants to do well."
     Wotherspoon begins his quest for gold tomorrow, with the first round of the 500-metre event at the 'M Wave.' But this time, unlike past Olympics, he'll have to race twice -- once tomorrow, then again on Tuesday, the winner having the fastest aggregate time.
     "In a one-race deal, you can have a surprise winner," said Marc Pelchat, an American speed skater. "You can have one of those perfect days. But with two races, it favors the best people in the competition. You're not going to have someone surprise you here, and that means I expect to see Jeremy Wotherspoon on the podium.
     "This format favors the best skater and I think he's the fastest here. If he's not on the podium, I'd be very surprised."
     Wotherspoon, for his part, isn't making predictions, except the usual -- "I'm here to do my best."
     But what has impressed those around him is how he is handling the monstrous expectations. In fact, those close to the speed-skating team say he is handling the pressures far better than Catriona Le May Doan seems to be. Le May Doan, favored to win in two women's events, has been on edge the past few days.
     A medal in the 500-metres event should the first of several medals for the Canadian team in speed skating. And the atmosphere surrounding the team right now is one of tremendous excitement.
     "I'm looking forward to starting it out," said Wotherspoon, who is originally from Humbolt, Sask, but now trains in Calgary. "I know a lot of people are expecting a lot. But I'm expecting a lot too."
     Wotherspoon's rise in the speed-skating world has been nothing short of breathtaking. He was a silver medallist in the world junior championships just two years ago. He was 10th in the 500 just a year ago in a major world event. This year, he has not been off the podium.
     Jeremy Wotherspoon
     Red Deer, Alta.
     Long-track speed skating
     Wotherspoon is the world-record holder at 1,000 metres. Finished eighth in both the 500- and 1,000 metre World Cup standings in '97 -- including one bronze medal.