August 20, 2004
Curse strikes againFlag-bearer Gill is eliminated after losing first-round match
By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun
ATHENS -- Flipped onto his back for the final time in his storied Olympic career, Nicolas Gill sat up, looked skyward and had just one thought as he pulled himself off the mat.
"I said, well, this is it -- probably my last match -- let's go home," said Canada's most decorated judoka.
"In the back of my mind, that's not the way I wanted to end it -- being out first round. But with the year I had, I thought the odds were bigger that would happen."
Shredding apart his knee just nine months earlier, the 32-year-old Montreal native has spent the last handful of months trying to rebound from surgery that generally sidelines athletes at least a year.
Yesterday, Gill couldn't fight back from a 3-1 deficit against Italy's Michele Monti, who scored an Ippon (immediate win) on the two-time Olympic medallist late in the match.
"I fell behind early and he just waited for me to open up and make a mistake," said a remarkably upbeat Gill, who knew the eyes of the nation would be on him as flag-bearer.
"Until the last moment, the match was going like I planned it. I needed to attack at that point and he countered me. I felt a bit too relaxed out there for some reason. Given the year I had, I should have been more worried."
His coach, Hiroshi Nakamura, has been plenty concerned ever since Gill decided to rush his return for his fourth Games.
"He came back physically but not mentally," said Nakamura, amidst a vociferous crowd at Ano Liossia Olympic Hall.
"In the back of his head, I think he was protecting his knee. He needed another three or four months. He's getting older and it takes longer to recover."
Gill still had a chance at staying alive in the tourney through the repechage until Israel's Ariel Zeevi ended those hopes 30 minutes later with a last-minute win over Monti.
His second major knee injury in four years, combined with yesterday's loss, had Gill all but announcing his retirement.
"I thought the same thing four years ago but now it's definitely the end for Olympics and Worlds," said Gill, who will go back to coaching in Montreal.
"I don't want to make a decision today but I always thought there would be a sign showing me the exit and I think today was maybe one of the signs."
Many Canadians will suggest Gill's undoing came a month ago when he was selected to carry Canada's flag into the opening ceremony. Not only was there controversy over his separatist views but there was also the matter of a curse that has seen most Canadian flag bearers fall short of expectations.
"You've got to put that aside and focus on what you have to do," said Gill of the flag flap.
"Everybody that knows me well thought that was a funny story. It was a little bit stressful that day -- I woke up and had 23 missed calls on my voicemail and wondered what was going on. But that blew over quickly."
An Olympic bronze medallist in 1992 and a silver medallist in Sydney, the 6-ft. 1-in., 231-lb. Canadian judo legend also had three medals from the world championships over his 15-year career.
"I think I've done everything I could," said Gill.
"I enjoyed it and that was always important and probably why I'm still here."
Pointing out just how hard it would be for a young judoka in Canada to follow his footsteps, Gill said what bothers him most about Canadian amateur sport is the unrealistic expectation put on athletes every four years.
"I'm a bit sad everybody's disappointed every Olympics -- it's always the story until rowing quiets it down with five or six medals," said Gill.
"But this is the Olympics and there are no guarantees."
No one knows that better than Gill.