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Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Skating a fine line

Olympic short-track speedskating has the potential to be a bloody mess

By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

 Don't get enough blood in Gary Bettman's kinder, gentler NHL? Need your daily dose of crash, bang, boom?

 Then keep your eye on short-track speedskating. (If you can find it anywhere on TV).

 Nobody pays much attention to this sport, at least until the Winter Olympics roll around, but it clearly is one of the most dangerous and exciting events in the world. It is a sport legendary for the fearlessness of its athletes.

 It almost is a miracle Canada manages to send a full team every four years to the Olympics.

 Consider this.

 At the 1990 Canadian trials in Montreal, national team skater Christine Boudrias became entangled with teammate Isabelle Charest and the two slid into the boards. Upon contact, Charest's skate slashed into the back of Boudrias' left leg, tearing open an 11-inch gash and severing an artery. Boudrias' heart, racing at about 200 beats per minute, began pumping her blood on to the ice, a full four litres.

 Dr. Francois Gougoux, the father of national team skater Fanny Gougoux, rushed to the ice and stuffed an official's jacket into the wound to stop the bleeding. Boudrias underwent two hours of surgery and received 125 stitches.

 Ten years later, at a World Cup event in Nobeyama, Japan, Boudrias' friend and teammate, Annie Perreault, was clipped by Korean skater Joo Min-Jin. Both went down. Joo's skate sliced into Perreault's leg, tearing a near-fatal cut so deep the 1998 500 metre Olympic gold medallist needed surgery and 150 stitches to fix it.

 Take a glance through the Canadian team bios. It's like documentation from a war zone.

 Jonathan Guilmette: fractured femur three days before leaving for the 1999 worlds. Marc Gagnon: broken back suffered in a fall in 1993. Jean-Francois Monette: fractured vertebrae three weeks prior to the 1998 Olympic team selections. Chantale Sevigny: fractured tibia and fibula at the 2000 Canadian trials.

 And we could go on.

 These athletes understand the risks and have no trouble getting back on the ice everyday. Whenever you have four skaters charging around a small ice surface, pushing and jostling for position, you're going to have horrific accidents.

 But that's doesn't mean the sport can't be made safer. Speedskating Canada high performance director Robert Bolduc believes there is one sure way to cut down on serious injuries in the sport. One is to slow down the action by tightening up a curve, a so-called double radius track. Much like they did with some auto racing tracks.

 FUN WITH INTERNATIONAL HOCKEY

 A great but rather unknown group is the Triple Gold Club, guys who have won a world championship, Stanley Cup and Olympic gold.

 There are a slew of Europeans who have pulled off the feat, including Russian stars Alexander Mogilny, Vladimir Malakhov and Vyacheslav Fetisov, as well as Mats Naslund of Sweden.

 If Canada wins the gold in Salt Lake this February, Canadians Rob Blake, Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan will join the club. If the Maple Leafs happen to win the Stanley Cup, forward Robert Reichel will be included.

 ON THE ICE

 When Peter Forsberg scored on Corey Hirsch of Canada to lead the Swedes to the gold medal at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, the Swedish government decided to issue a stamp, featuring an image of the goal taken from a photograph. However Hirsch, who called the goal the most embarrassing moment of his career, said he would agree only if Swedish Post paid him $100,000. They refused. To get around that, art designers changed the jersey colour to blue and Hirsch's number from 1 to 11 ... International Ice Hockey Federation officials are still pushing for the NHL champion to play the winner of the European League for world club supremacy ... Every skater on Team Slovakia in the Winter Olympics plays in the NHL. The three goaltenders, however, do not. Robert Filc plays for the University of British Columbia, Jan Lasak toils for Milwaukee in the American League and Rastislav Stana for Portland in the Western junior league ... You know the other teams are going to give Germany's No. 41 -- Tino Boos -- the gears when they get to Salt Lake City ... The Detroit Red Wings lead the NHL with 10 players chosen for the Olympics. The Leafs are second with nine ... The Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation named its team for Salt Lake, and, surprisingly, St. John's Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky is not on it. The Kiev native has eight goals and 11 assists in 33 games for the Baby Leafs ... Another Baby Bud, Chris Chartier of Russell, Man., will represent Canada at the Spengler Cup Dec. 26-31 in Davos, Switzerland ... Classy move. Not only are the Sabres allowing Miroslav Satan to compete in Slovakia's first Olympic preliminary game, team owner John Rigas will put his private plane to use to fly him to Salt Lake for the Feb. 9 game against Germany.

2002 Games Columnists