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    Wednesday, January 7, 1998

    Canadian speed skaters poised for medal haul

     CALGARY (CP) -- Olympic-bound speed skater Kevin Overland said after years of looking up at other countries on the oval Canada is now one of the nations to watch at the Winter Olympics.
     In fact, Overland -- a strong medal contender -- believes Canada has assembled its best ever long-track Olympic speed skating sqaud.
     "I just think it's Canada's turn," Overland, 23, said Wednesday after the final day of the Canadian Olympic speed skating trials. Overland earned a spot Wednesday in the 1,500-metre event, to go with spots in the 500 and 1,000.
     "We've looked up to a lot of teams. We've watched the Japanese and the Russians persevere throughout the 80s.
     "It's our turn now. We're skating great and we've got a really strong team, it's really fun to be a part of it."
     Recent results on the oval support Overland's assessment of Canada's strength.
     The long-track team is led by Catriona Le May Doan, who enters the Games as the world record-holder in the 1,500- and 500-metre events. Overland set a world record himself in November in the 1,500 metres, but it was broken in December by a Dutch skater.
     Another Canadian, Jeremy Wotherspoon, 21, of Red Deer, Alta., holds the world record in the 1,000 metres and has four World Cup victories since the skating season began.
     While the Olympic trials are over, the team hasn't officially been named because of two appeals for injury byes involving Neal Marshall, a former world record holder, and Mike Ireland.
     Ireland has a groin pull while Marshall, 28, has struggled of late because of asthma, failing to qualify in either the 500- or 1,000-metre events. Marshall decided not to attempt a final shot on Wednesday in the 1,500 because his asthma, coupled with a severe cold, had not settled.
     "I'll be sitting on coals waiting for the phone to ring," said Marshall. "It's a very frustrating situation."
     The high-performance committee of the Canadian Amateur Speed Skating Association was to decide on both skaters' requests during a conference call late Wednesday.
     Robert Bolduc, the association's technical program director, said the decisions would be difficult.
     "It's obvious that with the performances (of other skaters) during the week it will be a tougher decision," he said. "But with the depth of our team right now ... it's not a shoo-in for a bye."
     Bolduc believes Canada could come away with five medals between the long- and short-track skaters, which would be the most successful Olympics ever for Canadian speed skaters.
     "This is the best ever team, it's a very, very good team," he said.
     "Five medals would be a very good Olympics for us, but we could have more. We have shots in five or six distances, which we didn't have in the past Olympics. In the past we were a one-skater army, Gaetan Boucher (1984) and Susan Auch in 1994."
     Overland, born in Kitchener, Ont., and now living in Calgary, said Auch's silver medal in Lillehammer has helped to boost the Canadian team to its current succcess.
     "We train with her. She just made it very real for us -- it's possible to be Canadian and to get on the podium."
     Overland, whose sister Cindy is also member of the Olympic team, said Canada is also benefitting from having committed itself to adopting the controversial Klap Skate -- a speed skate that is hinged at the toe like a cross-country ski. Being able to lift the ankle has allowed skaters to lengthen their strides and increase their speed.
     "We all made a decision at the end of last year that we had to get on these things," he said. "The Canadian team has truly believed in them from the beginning and that's why we've succeeded."