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    Thursday, November 20, 1997

    Learning fast

    By TOM BRENNAN -- Calgary Sun
      Obviously, with records now having the life span of a mayfly, the technology works. And yes, Canadians have been among the quickest to pick up on it.
     But to suggest this funky footwear is why Canada's long track sprint speed skaters were so hot in Minnesota last week -- and hopeful of doing just as well at Calgary's Olympic Oval this weekend -- is claptrap.
     "Too much emphasis on the clap skates," declares Susan Auch, wise old matriarch of the squad. "I think this team would have similar results no matter what the skates."
     No, Canadians are having some pretty good showings right now because ... they're pretty good right now.
     "Strongest and deepest ever," was heard more than once at yesterday's presser for this week's World Cup event, and Auch, who's been around for a decade, doesn't disagree.
     "The majority of the team is fairly young, but they're just getting better and better," says the 31-year-old. "It's really nice to see the depth we have on this team, and that they're staying around to compete at the elite level."
     In this past weekend's World Cup at Roseville, Minn., the first of four stops, all nine Canadian sprinters -- five men, four women -- had at least one top-10 finish, the first time that's ever happened.
     Catriona LeMay Doan won both a 500- and 1000-metre race, her first career World Cup victories. Jeremy Wotherspoon did the same. Auch captured her first World Cup event since undergoing knee surgery two summers ago, and Mike Ireland also made the podium. So what gives?
     "The Canadian team is really a technical team, and that's what you have to have here," offers another vet, Sylvain Bouchard. "(The Calgary track) is so fast that what you want to improve on is technique.
     "That's what it is, 70 percent technique, 30 percent training. In old times, skating outdoors all the time, you could get by with being stronger."
     Bouchard also believes the Canucks have been able to develop something approaching a team mentality, not easy in a solitary sport like this.
     And nothing spurs someone on like seeing colleagues succeed. Who wants to be left behind?
     "For sure, when you see a young kid like Jeremy, 21 years old, breaking world records, and you're 27 going on 28, it motivates you even more to try to improve," says Bouchard.
     "It certainly pushes me harder than I'm usually going this time of the year," adds Auch. "Here, all of a sudden, the whole team is skating well, and it puts pressure on you to duplicate what other people are doing."
     The question is, can they maintain it through to Nagano?
     "We've had a good beginning to the season, hopefully we'll be able to hold on to it," says Auch. "There's a lot more time we can trim."