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COLUMNISTS

Sat, August 21, 2004

When close does count!


ATHENS -- This time, David Ford shouldn't have to say he's sorry. This time the Canadian veteran didn't gag on the Games. This time he almost manufactured a miracle medal. This time he helped create one of the greatest events in the history of kayaking.

But Ford says he's sorry.

They say the worst place to finish at the Olympic Games is fourth. You spend the next four years, and maybe the rest of your life, wondering what could have been. Competing in his fourth Olympics, Ford was fourth.

Despite being ranked in the top five for the better part of a dozen years in kayak, despite having won the world championship and World Cup against far stronger fields, Ford has had horror story after horror story after horror story at the biggest show in sports.

ONE OF THE BEST

This time, it didn't happen. In Athens, Ford showed fans who only pay attention to sports like his every four years, that he's one of the very, very best in the world.

"I still feel like I have to say I'm sorry," he said. "I came here to win a medal. I didn't do it. If I hadn't touched that second gate in the semifinal and lost three seconds between gates numbers six and seven in the final, I'd have been an Olympic medallist."

Ford, 37, is going home again to a trophy case where there is something missing.

SOMETHING MISSING

"I have a trophy case at home where the most prominent place is empty," he said. "I use it as motivation. I have to fill it."

He came oh-so-close yesterday.

With two competitors to go, there he stood, holding his paddle, watching his name stay up on the scoreboard in second place behind gold-medal winner Benoit Peschier of France. Then Campbell Walsh of Great Britain came down with a stunning run and bumped him to third.

Ford stood on the banks of the world's most spectacular man-made river and applauded for the paddler who had topped him.

That left only Fabien Lefevre of France to go, with Ford on the board sitting third.

Triumph or tragedy?

Bronze or bust?

While he had the option of watching the video board, Ford watched the clock and watched his Olympic medal go away.

He stood there, stone-faced this time, clapping his hands together slowly, politely, trying not to let his body language give away his disappointment.

"I raced my heart out but it didn't work out," Ford said.

Just being in position to have a chance at a medal was a minor miracle for Ford, who almost crapped out in qualifying on Thursday.

He started his big day the same way, clipping gate two in the semifinal run yesterday.

He hauled himself out of the water and had already started talking in the mixed zone about how you can't expect to make it to an Olympic final when you miss a gate, when suddenly the Canadian coaching staff called him off. There was major carnage going on behind him. Everybody, it seemed, was clipping a gate and taking a two-second penalty.

When it was all done, when the field was culled from 20 to 10 for the final, Ford sat seventh.

But in the final, Ford stalled between gates.

"That's the biggest whitewater on the course," he said. "I came out of gate six in great position, but the water was suddenly taller and it stopped me dead. I just sat there counting the seconds."

Ford, 37, says he's not calling it a career here. He's going to race again next year.

"That's what life is all about," he said. "I accept the challenge."


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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