July 29, 1996
SNEAKY SILVER FOR B.C. BOY
By KEN FIDLIN
At The Olympics
STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- They stood arm in arm, the oddest couple, yet welded together on this most remarkable day in Canadian cycling history.
Gregarious Curt Harnett - the Hulk Hogan clone, with legs like oak trees and hair like Samson - and Brian Walton, a quiet wisp of skin and bone who makes you want to slip him 50 bucks to go buy a good meal.
Walton, from North Delta, B.C., stunned the cycling world by winning a silver medal in the men's points race, a 40-kilometre track event with a complicated format that rewards the winners of sprints every eight laps.
A few moments later, Harnett, in his final ride internationally for Canada, defeated Australian Gary Neiwand 2-0 to win the sprint bronze.
"This was Canada's best day on (the cycling) track in a long, long time," Walton said. "Maybe our best day ever."
Walton's race immediately preceded the sprint races and Harnett was drawn along in the excitement.
"I have to say it was one of the most inspirational moments I've ever experienced," Harnett said. "I was in the pits, trying to focus on my race but I was getting regular updates on Brian. Then, when he was just off the front with eight laps to go, I got excited.
"He weighs, what, 150 pounds?" Harnett said. "Well, 145 of them were heart today. In 14 years of international racing I've seen a lot of bike races. I've never seen anything like that before.
"Brian was Superman today."
Walton was born in Ottawa, grew up in Sydney, N.S., and now calls Delta, B.C., home. He's been a professional racer the past eight years but recently had been dropped from Canada's Olympic road racing team.
"A lot of people lost faith in me the past three months," Walton said. "This is a chance to pay them back."
Walton's second-place finish yesterday behind Italy's Silvio Martinello was even more remarkable in that about nine weeks ago, he had arthroscopic knee surgery.
"I came back from Europe in April and for more than a month I couldn't ride, my right knee hurt so much. Finally I went to my (Saturn) team doctor in Boston and he found scar tissue on the knee. I had it scoped and in two days, on May 20, I started training."
His coach Mirek Mazur was as surprised as anyone.
"I didn't believe there was any way he could recover from his surgery in six weeks and win a medal here," Mazur said. "Personally, I was hoping for a top-10 finish."
At one point during the race, Walton fell a half-lap behind the pack. Normally when that happens, a rider needs to team up with another - one to break the wind, the other to draft in shifts - to reel in the field. Sometimes it's impossible. Walton did it without anyone's help, an enormous accomplishment.
"It was heroic," Mazur said. "At that point, I began to feel that he could win a medal on heart."
Walton also won the silver with his head, catching a pack of riders aiming for the silver by surprise.
"I was a little sneaky," Walton said. "Near the end, I could see that there were three guys watching each other, fighting for the silver. With 10 laps to go I made my attack."
In the next-to-last sprint, Walton grabbed three points to move into fourth place overall. In the final sprint, he got the maximum 10 to jump into second place with 29 points.
"Everybody knew the Italian was uncatchable but nobody really noticed me lurking around in fourth. I wasn't the second strongest guy out there but I was cagey."
In the early moments after the race, Walton was a basket case of emotion, his voice breaking, his eyes wet.
"To me, this is as special as the gold. I've been dreaming about this for years.
"In 1976, in Sydney, N.S., I was living down the street from (Canadian swimmer) Nancy Garapick who won two medals. I remember her showing them to me and ever since, I've dreamed of getting an Olympic medal of my own."
Both Walton and Harnett arrived at the interview area at the same time. Harnett started to move away to give Walton time alone with reporters, then changed his mind and joined his friend and teammate behind the microphone.
"Let's do an all-Canadian interview," he roared into the microphone. "It's about @#$%*& time, don't you think?"
Come to think of it, he was right.