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    Wednesday, January 28, 1998

    Auch's grand finale

    By RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun
      She's skated to the Olympic podium.
     And breathed new life into our nation's speed skating team.
     Carrying the Canadian flag at Nagano would only cap what's been a great run for Susan Auch.
     "That would definitely culminate a whole lifetime," says the 31-year-old who will be competing in her fourth -- and final -- Olympic Games.
     "It would make my career. That would be a really great thing if I could walk in with the flag representing Canada. It would be amazing."
     Even with the past history of recent flag bearers?
     "Ya," she shot back after yesterday's luncheon celebrating Canada's Olympic team at the Convention Centre. "I'm not superstitious, so I don't think it would jinx me."
     A decade ago, Auch first marched into an Olympic venue, entering McMahon Stadium as a member of the short track speed skating team.
     Her peak moment came at the 1994 Games in Norway when she won silver in the 500 metres.
     And now she's preparing to go out in a blaze of glory.
     "I think I'm going in with the idea I really wanted to experience this Olympics fully," said Auch, who says she may or may not return for another year on the World Cup circuit.
     "The last one, I was on a mission. This one, as well, but it's a little different because I have my medal from last time. The fact it is my last one is a little sad, for sure."
     Whoever is selecting our nation's flag bearer just needs to look at the black and white facts regarding Auch's career.
     The 1995 Canadian female athlete of the year, Auch was the No. 1 ranked skater in the world that year.
     Nearly two years ago, she had surgery on her right knee, and had to work her way back.
     She did, last weekend placing seventh overall and second in the 500 metres at the world championships in Berlin.
     "I'm the only woman to beat Catriona (Le May Doan -- the world champ and teammate) this year in the 500 metres," she proudly states.
     But Auch's accomplishments transcend just the numbers.
     Her sport isn't underwater basket weaving. It's an intense, explosive sport that requires muscle twitch fibres. And extreme dedication.
     "I'm very fortunate to still compete at this level. It's not just my age, but because of the passion," said Auch, at the Telus Celebrations that kicked off the week-long send off.
     "It's really hard to find the passion year after year after year. And after doing so well for so long, that's the challenge."
     For all her success, Auch has also found herself in a new position -- in Le May Doan's shadow.
     Even during a recent appearance in her hometown of Winnipeg, Auch wasn't the big story.
     It's a tough position, but one Auch has become comfortable with and now appreciates.
     "I get to go to the Olympics quietly again, the way I did last time, and whatever I do is going to be great," said Auch, who is considering a career in interior decorating.
     "Not that I'm uncomfortable with the media attention, but not having it as much is probably healthy."
     Besides, it's enabled her to focus on her Nagano dream.
     "I don't think I can do more to prepare for the Olympics -- I'm ready to go. I've done everything I can possibly do to prepare for it," she said.
     "I won't come away from there, no matter what happens, feeling like I should have done this or I should have done that. I've done everything that I think I could possibly done."