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    Wednesday, November 19, 1997

    Canadians brimming with confidence

    By JAMES McCARTEN -- The Canadian Press
     CALGARY (CP) -- Canada's greatest speed skaters introduced the newest member of their World Cup team Wednesday -- a funny-looking rookie from the Netherlands with a reputation for blazing starts.
     Canada, meet the clap skate -- a Dutch invention that makes skaters like Sylvain Bouchard wonder how they ever did without it.
     "With this particular skate, you don't slow down," Bouchard, of Loretteville, Que., said as he demonstrated how the molded plastic boot lifts off the blade, attached only with a hinge at the front.
     "That's why we're going to break the world records."
     That kind of confidence was everywhere Wednesday as the team continued its preparations for the sprints, which get underway Saturday at the Olympic Oval, with an eye towards the Winter Olympics in Nagano in February.
     A stellar World Cup performance last week in Minnesota, coupled with the new skates and the world's fastest ice in Calgary, has a lot of people expecting the likes of Winnipeg's Susan Auch and Catriona LeMay Doan of Saskatoon to walk away from this weekend with world records.
     For her part, Auch is looking forward to the pressure that comes from increased expectations.
     "I skated better (last year) because I was expected to skate well," said Auch, who has spent the last two seasons recovering from knee surgery.
     "I hope that comes up again, because I definitely rose to the challenge of what everybody said they thought I should do. I'm skating a lot better technically, and if I have that high level of anxiety, of something to prove, the best will come out of me."
     Auch was among the Canadians who amassed three gold medals and two silver at last weekend's World Cup season opener in Roseville, Minn.
     Auch and Le May Doan were 1-2 in the women's 500 metres, Le May Doan won the 1,000 and Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta. was first in the 500 and second in the 1,000.
     On Saturday, Le May Doan also took the 500, Wotherspoon won the 1,000 and Mike Ireland of Winnipeg was second in the 500 to give Canada their best-ever World Cup performance.
     The new skates, which are rapidly becoming the skate of choice and should be the industry standard at the Olympics, have shaved nearly a second off the team's best times.
     The blade is attached to the boot by a heavy-duty hinge at the toe, which allows it to swing free like a movie director's clap-board. The design, which has been around for more than 30 years but wasn't perfected until 1982, has taken a while to catch on.
     "As a team, we're very strong," said LeMay Doan. "The skates allow pushes to be even stronger, and that's one of the reasons you're seeing a big change in times."
     The toughest record to break will be the men's 500 -- a blistering 35.69 seconds set by Japan at the World Cup sprints last year.
     "I'm sure every other record will be broken this weekend, 100 per cent positive," said Wotherspoon. "I think I can come close, but I'm not sure how close I'll be."
     Without the clap skates, he added, Canada wouldn't have a hope of keeping up with the world's speed skating elite.
     "The whole world's using them," he said. "If you don't use them, you're just going to be left behind."