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COLUMNISTS

Fri, August 20, 2004

Better days ahead


ATHENS -- Calm down, Canada. Hold your horses, hosers. Don't get your hockey socks in a knot, my fellow Canucks.

The Great White North is about to pull out of the tie for 39th place in the Olympic medal standings with Lower Mongolia and Upper Slobovia.

It's the Canada Days Weekend at the Olympic Games.

This is where we make our move.

Or, at least, it better be. If it isn't, this is going to be Sydney all over again.

This is where Canada has to get it done.

People back home are starting to get frustrated waiting for that fuzzy feeling you get when a Canadian stands on top of a podium at the Olympic Games, the red Maple Leaf goes up and they play our music.

Certain members of the media here in Athens have been getting a bit itchy. Understandable. When the TV guy from Oz is standing in front of a camera at the shooting venue at noon on Day 2 enthusing "It's raining gold medals for Australia" and you're standing in the parking lot for six consecutive days saying "I got nuthin'," you can start to take it personally.

One bloomin' bronze.

Good on ya, Blythe Hartley and Emilie Heymans, but one bronze from a daffy diving event that even the athletes have a hard time taking seriously has an Olympic feel-good shelf life of a few hours, not days.

Where is Simon Whitfield when you need him? And where are all those medals people were projecting?

BLIZZARD OF MEDALS FORECAST

Well, there's a blizzard of medals in the forecast for the next three days, beginning this morning when world champion trampolinist Karen Cockburn of North York, Ont., leaps into the fray.

Also expected to medal are the men's eight, the men's four, women's pair and men's lightweight four in rowing, Kyle Shewfelt in gymnastics, Christine Nordhagen in wrestling, David Ford in whitewater kayaking, Mark Boswell in the high jump and Heymans, again, in platform diving.

"There's the potential for eight to 10 medals this weekend," said Mark Lowry of the Canadian Olympic Committee, who is a little frustrated with the frustration back home.

"Anybody who knows our team knows we weren't front-loaded to win medals during the first week of these Games."

Of course, even if there's three days of medal-mania ahead, we can hardly hope to compete with Australia, which is averaging a gold medal a day. And it is the country which best compares with Canada in size and population.

"We're taking the first steps toward trying to change our sports system to one more modelled after Australia," Lowry said.

Aiming at a much more elite team, dramatically cutting down the passengers who come here and finish 40th, Canada has brought 266 athletes to these Olympics, down from 309 in Sydney and 446 in Atlanta.

The federal government finally is getting the picture that Canadians want to have athletes who can succeed at the Olympics and want to experience what the Australians do every day. Since February, the feds have put $30 million into the project.

"We believe our athletes can be as good as any in the world if they are given the tools," Lowry said. "We're finally on the path. It'll take until Beijing in 2008 or until 2012, but we're on the path."

But that's then. This is now.

"We're about where we figured we'd be," Lowry said.

EXPECTATIONS? WHAT EXPECTATIONS?

Chef de mission Dave Bedford said Canada had hopes for the first six days but, starting today, Canada has expectations.

There's a difference.

"No doubt some athletes are disappointed," Bedford said. "I know Sherraine MacKay was really disappointed in fencing and there were a couple of others, like Daniel Nestor and Frederic Niemeyer in tennis. But the fact they didn't win medals ... I don't know that there was the expectation that they'd win medals.

"We knew there wouldn't be many medals during the first week. We were hoping to sneak a surprise in, but to suggest we were counting on more medals than we won and that the first week was some sort of disaster just isn't the way it is.

"I don't see many hanging heads on our team and there are a lot of determined athletes ready to give us what we think is going to be a memorable weekend."


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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