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COLUMNISTS

Mon, August 23, 2004

Shewfelt floors 'em all!


ATHENS -- He ended his routine the same way many Canadians start theirs -- with a double-double.

Other than that, what Kyle Shewfelt did in front of the world yesterday was unlike anything a Canadian has ever accomplished: Olympic gold in artistic gymnastics.

"This is a historic moment and I'm so happy to be the one who could make this history," said the 22-year-old Calgarian, who became Canada's first Olympic medallist in the sport.

"I was a kid when I started gymnastics and I had a dream. I did an interview (as a kid) and said 'I want to go to the Olympics and I want to win.' Today it happened. I hope this is an inspiration for the whole nation. Anything is possible."

Carrying the weight of a country on his massive shoulders, Shewfelt delivered a near-flawless floor routine he hadn't been able to practise from March to June due to a deep ankle bruise that threatened his very participation here.

When he stuck his final dismount, he demonstrated his flair for the dramatic by throwing both hands in the air followed by a joyous fist pump.

"Before my dismount I told myself what I've been telling myself all week: Put everything you have into this landing -- it's the only one that matters," said Shewfelt, Canada's first gold medallist of these Games.

The performance sparked celebrations back home in Calgary.

And now staff at Shewfelt's training grounds, Altadore Gymnastic Club, who were planning a barbeque today, are throwing a party instead.

"Altadore is just so proud of Kyle -- he's just done an amazing job," said Tammy Andreotti, the women's coach at the club, located at 6303, 30 St. S.E.

Everyone's welcome to come at 11 a.m. and any money raised will be used to cover the cost of the family's trip to Athens, said Andreotti, adding club members are hoping their golden boy will do as well in the vault today.

Also elated at the win was Lisa Smith, head coach of the women's gymnastic program at the University of Calgary.

"We're really excited," said Smith, whose husband Tony is in Athens as a gymnastics coach.

She's been following Shewfelt's career for some time and saw the glint of gold in his eye from the very start.

"I remember first seeing him at a Western Canadian Championships when he was 10 years old ... and he's been great ever since," Smith said.

"I saw a lot of drive ... I just saw that real determination in him that he wanted to succeed."

That drive was evident in Athens yesterday.

Performing fifth of eight competitors in the final, Shewfelt's routine was scored 9.787, prompting a roar from a capacity crowd at Olympic Indoor Hall that included his parents, Nola and Wes, as well as girlfriend Melissa.

He was immediately embraced by longtime coach Kelly Manjak and waited for the final three competitors to finish.

When Olympic all-around champion Paul Hamm's score ended the competition in fourth, Shewfelt put his face in his hands.

Only later did he find out his score was identical to Romania's Marian Dragulescu's and that he won by a tiebreaker that eliminates the lowest judges' scores.

"My first reaction was 'I did it,'" said Shewfelt, who was heartbroken in Sydney when a half-step out of bounds cost him a spot in the final.

"I overcame that huge challenge and I love a challenge. I think I actually yelled when I stuck my dismount because there was so much that went into this. Not so much worrying, but anticipation and anxiousness and expectation."

A world champion who was touted by Sports Illustrated to win gold in the floor, Shewfelt's greatest triumph on the day was shelving the expectations and negativity back home that seem to have had an affect on the Canadian team.

"Think of dedicating your whole life to something and having a dream, and finally having that dream come true," he said of a flag-raising ceremony he punctuated by kissing his medal.

"I felt so proud to be a Canadian. I've imagined being in this position from age six when I started."

At 11 a.m. today he'll put on display "The Shewfelt," a move off the vault he's so good at it was named after him.

Should he translate it into another gold, the double-double may also be synonymous with his name.

-- - -

MAN BEHIND THE MEDAL

* AGE -- 22

* HEIGHT -- 5 ft. 4 in.

* WEIGHT -- 135 lb.

* CLUB -- Altadore Gymnastics Club

* COACH -- Kelly Manjak

* OCCUPATION -- Full-time athlete

* RESULTS -- 2004 Olympic gold medal (floor); double bronze medallist at 2003 world championships (floor and vault); double gold medallist (floor and vault) at 2002 Commonwealth Games; multi-World Cup medallist

* FUTURE ASPIRATIONS -- Join Cirque du Soleil when gymnastics career is over

* UP NEXT -- Competing in vault today


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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