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COLUMNISTS

Wed, August 11, 2004

Canada has an interesting group of athletes


ATHENS -- There are thousands of stories in the naked Olympic city (what do you mean they won't be competing naked like they did around here back in the beginning?) and Canada, this year, has its fair share.

There are few more inspiring ways to spend a day than talking to first-timers mere hours before they march in the opening ceremonies and realize their Olympic dreams.

Such as rowers Buffy and Barney Williams.

Buffy isn't a first-timer. She was in Sydney four years ago. Won a bronze in rowing. Barney was there, too, his face painted, sitting in the stands, cheering for his wife in the women's eight.

They're back at the Olympics again this year. This time both made it ---Buffy in the women's pair, Barney in the men's four.

"Four years ago we were sitting on a beach in Fiji on the way back from Sydney when we made the commitment to both go for it in Athens," Barney said.

"I think this is going to be the best of both worlds. In 2000, I was a spectator at the Games, which were the best possible Olympics to be a spectator. These Games could be the best Games to be an athlete.

"I'm thrilled. This is a phenomenal moment to arrive here and have our first day on the water, where you couldn't ask for a better setting. This is a dream come true, but both of us winning gold medals is the real dream."

ACHIEVED A GOAL

Added Buffy: "The neatest part is he has achieved the goal he set four years ago. I'm so proud he accomplished what he set out to do. Four years ago he was our super-fan. He made such an impression he inspired his family and my family - about 20 of them between the two of us - to come here and replace him in the stands as super-fans.

"My family booked the trip a long time ago, deciding to come here and have a family reunion even if I didn't make the team."

Buffy is from London, Ont., and Barney from Saltspring Island, B.C. They met in 1999 through rowing in Victoria.

Because the men train in Victoria and the women in London, the two are separated half the year. And they barely see each other here.

"And we're certainly not roomies," Buffy said. "That's against team rules."

Then there's Myriam Boileau.

Eighteen months ago it looked like her Olympic dream was dead.

"I had to have experimental surgery, burning all the nerves for two herniated discs in my lower back," the diver from Montreal said. "I didn't give up the dream. It was pretty long and really hard. The surgery was really, really painful because I had to stay awake for it.

"I'm really proud of myself to have made it here."

Boileau says she can't wait for the opening ceremonies.

"I know I'll be emotional. It will be the time I really realize what I have accomplished. It will mean I accomplished my dream. And I had to work so hard, I know I deserve it."

Coach Mitch Geller calls her his sleeper.

"I don't think anybody expects anything of her, but her quality in training is so high we're in awe of what we're watching."

Then there's Pauline Van Roessel.

She's 37. Didn't take up rowing until five years ago when she left a teaching job in the Calgary area to take industrial design at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

From Bow Island, where there's actually no island, she originally had tried to become an Olympian as a basketball player.

"It's fulfilling a lifelong dream. I wanted to get to the Olympics since I was a little girl. I remember watching them when I was in Grade 3. As a child I was into running. My family had a cross-country running background. I tried a lot of sports to keep my Olympic dream alive."

She says it's cool being 37 and a member of a very young women's eight crew.

"All the way along it has been someone much younger helping me. It's pretty humbling in a way, but really rewarding."

There are times when being the old gal is a positive influence on the others.

"A lot of members of our team are impressed by the food setup here. To me, it's like one of the big tents at the Calgary Stampede except with no booze," she said with a laugh.

"I'm not awestruck. I'm not walking around with my jaw on the ground."

She can understand those who are struck by it all.

Like Gael Mackie. She's 15.

"It's amazing," the four-foot-10 artistic gymnast from Langley, B.C., said after attending Canada's flag-raising ceremony last night. "I can't really put it into words. It's the thrill of a lifetime.

INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE

"It's so incredible to be in the village looking at all the amazing athletes here and having them all looking at me. They look at me because I'm so young and so small.

"This has always been my goal and my dream," said the daughter of William Mackie who competed for Canada in gymnastics at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Always, when you're 15, is not necessarily a long time ago.

"About four years ago," she said.


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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