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COLUMNISTS

Thu, August 12, 2004

Pool haul a worry


Canada's Olympic swim team is sure to make a splash in the pool in Athens, but not in the way most Canadians might hope.

For the first time in 40 years, Canada might not win a single swimming medal at an Olympics -- something that hasn't happened since the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

It's not exactly the kind of record anyone wants to match, but even Canada's long-standing head coach admits it's a distinct possibility.

"None of our swimmers are currently ranked in the top three in the world," Dave Johnson said.

"We're certainly going to the games looking for a medal, wherever we can find it."

BEST HOPE

Johnson says Morgan Knabe, the 23-year-old breaststroker who swims out of the University of Calgary Swim Association, is likely Canada's best hope for a swimming medal.

"Morgan has got some experience behind him," Johnson said when reached in Kos, an island in Greece, where the team has been training for two weeks.

"He was a finalist in the 100-metre breaststroke in Sydney in 2000 and he has been in the finals in all the major world events. He has to step up and improve a bit, but probably from the point of consistency and form I would say that he's the most experienced that we have at this level."

Another hopeful is the youngest member of the swim team, Brittany Reimer, who at 16 just learned to drive a car.

At last year's world championships in Barcelona the then 15-year-old from Surrey, B.C., placed fourth in the 800-metre freestyle, fifth in the 400-metre freestyle and eighth in the 4x200 freestyle relay.

This season she hasn't matched the times she swam in Spain and has dropped out of the top-25 world rankings.

"I think it's a pretty tall order for anybody going to their first Olympic Games to immediately jump into the medals," Johnson said, referring to Reimer's chance to strike gold, silver or bronze. "But she's a really great racer. She has demonstrated to us over the last little while that, starting with the worlds last year, that she likes this game and that she can get herself up. If she can put it together, she has an outside shot at a medal. I wouldn't write her off, by any stretch of the imagination."

Because of the Canada Olympic Committee's "raising of the bar" and allowing athletes who rank only in the top 12 in the world, there are just six women on the swim team and 14 men but a whopping total of eight swimming officials, including coaches and an administrator.

Even though the combined time of Canada's top four women 200-metre freestylers would be fast enough to place them eighth in the world in the 4x200 freestyle relay, Canada insisted that the top-12 standard had to be met individually, a standard that has been controversial and heartbreaking for Canadian athletes who qualified under International standards but not under Canada's own.

INTERESTING

Nathaniel O'Brien has one of the more interesting stories on the swim team. The 21-year-old who was born in Bellevue, Wash., and lists his residence as Austin, Tex., moved to Victoria to swim under Ron Jacks and Eddie Reese.

So, what's an American-born swimmer doing on the Canadian team? His mother, Lisa Geary, swam for Canada at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and placed 12th in the 800-metre freestyle.

O'Brien, who holds dual citizenship, will compete in the 200 backstroke and 200 butterfly.

At the 2004 Olympic trials, O'Brien beat out Canadian record-holder Keith Beavers in the 200 backstroke.

Beavers, of Orangeville, also qualified in the 200 backstroke as well as the 200 and 400 individual medley, in which all four strokes -- butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle -- are swum in that order.

So, Canada's swimmers may make some waves but they are more likely to be waves of controversy rather than from the wake they make from their speed.

SWIMMING

- Michael Phelps, U.S.

Five world records at 2003 world championships.

- Ian Thorpe, Australia

Thorpedo multiple Olympic, world champion.

- Pieter van den Hoogenband, Netherlands

Defending Olympic champion in 200 men's freestyle.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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