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    Saturday, February 7, 1998

    Canada's first shot at gold

    By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
      NAGANO -- The first Canadian medallist of the Winter Games may well be a little known athlete from small-town New Brunswick participating in a first-time Olympic sport.
     "I'm stoked," said Mark Fawcett of East Riverside, whose sport is snowboarding. "Our whole team is smoking right now."
     Like wow, man.
     Fawcett is one of the favorites in today's giant slalom, the first real day of competition at the Olympics, the first medal sport.
     'Proud feeling'
     "It's really a proud feeling," Fawcett said. "It's great to be kind of leading off for Canada, starting things out. Canadians are all pretty stoked here. I want to be the start of something big.
     "You know, we're the best dressed people here. Everybody's saying that. You may not think that's much, but it makes you feel great. I think our team is really into this, and we're going to see a whole lot of Canadian dominance here.
     "It's going to be amazing."
     For Fawcett, the whole Olympic experience is from the museum of the hard-to-believe. He never thought he would see snowboarding in the Olympics in his competitive life. He never believed he would get through all the financial crises that have been his life to make it to this level. He never thought when he was travelling to New England every winter weekend in high school, because there was no 'boarding in New Brunswick, that it would one day translate into a trip to Japan.
     "It didn't hit me until I got out of high school that I could do this for a living," said Fawcett.
     "Then when I started out, I found there was actually some money to be made in this. Right off, I had sponsorship, I was doing OK. And then the recession years hit in the early '90s, and I lost my sponsorship and I went broke."
     So Fawcett lived in a refurbished school bus. And on the side he sold cookie.
     "It was a tough time," said Fawcett, 26. "A couple of times I contemplated quitting. I guess when you go through those kind of times it makes you appreciate this all the more."
     Now he is here and ready to race. Last season, he won six of the 10 events he entered. He sees no reason why he can't win on the course at Mt. Yakebitai.
     "I've got a lot of people pulling for me. A lot of people are going to be watching and partying."
     So let the Games, and the party, begin.