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COLUMNISTS

Mon, August 23, 2004

Stupor Sunday showcase


ATHENS -- Shew came through. But even a gold medal couldn't save what was supposed to be the weekend which was supposed to turn the XXVIII Olympic Games into Canada's Wonderland.

It was supposed to be Super Sunday. It didn't work that way.

The rowers went down like holes had been drilled in their boat and Canada's Olympic Games went with them.

Rowing was supposed to be good for a mitt-full of medals at Athens 2004.

Hopes of going over the seriously shabby Sydney 2000 total of 14 medals here this year clearly went away yesterday.

With only four medals to show with one week to go, there is now definite danger of Canada being a single-digit country for the first time since bringing back five from the 1972 Munich Olympics.

But at least Kyle Shewfelt didn't let the rowing disaster carry over to his event, despite the heaping helping of pressure that transferred over to him to carry the country. That made his gold 24 karat.

SUNK THE SHIP

Emilie Heymans finished fourth in diving last night. Fourth is a developing storyline for Canada. Two on Friday. Two on Sunday. One includes Tonya Verbeek of Grimsby, Ont., who made it to the semifinals in women's wrestling yesterday. With no bronze medal bout in the sport, even if she finished fourth she's guaranteed a bronze. So score another one. Five.

If you're scoring, the rowers sunk the ship. For a second straight summer Olympics, Canada has gagged on the Games and the rowers will wear it.

The closest thing to a lock for Canada was the men's eight. The back-to-back world champions hadn't lost a race in two years until they came here. But like so many before them, they succumed to the Canadian condition of not being able to seize the moment.

How do you write this any other way than another captial 'C,' as in Canada Chokes.

"It's an incredible shock to me," said head coach Dave Richardson. "I never imagined they wouldn't win a medal."

"Obviously there are disappointing results," said chef de mission Dave Bedford. "We expected four or five medals from rowing and ended up with one."

They were also forced to face what is becoming an undeniable fact that Canadians come to the Olympics to underachieve.

In Sydney there was Simon Whitfield and Daniel Igali and now Canada has a new Olympic hero in Shewfelt. But they're few and far between, these Canadian athletes who get it done on the day.

New CEO Chris Rudge admitted the Canadian Olympic Committee is studying the subject.

"We discovered that in Salt Lake only 29% of those ranked were able to realize results at the Olympics. Our potential-to-execution ratio is way lower than most countries."

The rowing eight might be the all-time example. They were so far back you needed to send out the coast guard to find them.

"We're pretty bloody shocked," said Kyle Hamilton of Victoria. "It's the first race I wasn't pulling up to the dock to climb on the podium. I don't know what to say. I'm sorry. The whole crew knew the expectations. We didn't live up to them. This is going to stay with us a lot of years.

"We know we were being looked at as the flag bearers for the Canadian Olympic team. We looked at ourselves that way. This had nothing to do with the media or the other Canadian athletes. Obviously it's crushing. It's a disappointment. It's a nightmare."

The most positive you can get about what happened was that this Canadian crew was going for gold and when the Americans went out hard and Canada couldn't counter, it killed their spirit. They weren't here for silver or bronze. And, having never been beaten, they didn't know how to salvage a secondary souvenir.

"We were here for the gold medal. If we did end up with a silver, you would not have seen us smiling," said Canadian captain Andrew Hoskins of Edmonton.

"One reason we came up short of a silver is that we were going for gold," he said of the classic case of a panic attack.

"The Olympics is definitely another level. This is a young team. We don't have much experience. You have to take it to another level. This is not a World Cup. Winning World Cups ... they're easy."

HEARTBROKEN

You're certainly allowed to feel for them.

"They're heartbroken," said Canadian head coach Brian Richardson.

"They're quite a young team that came from nowhere two and a half years ago," he said of the crew which won the last two world championships.

"It's pressure and experience and how you cope with it. When you get here it's 20% physical and 80% mental. This is going to be hard for them. I think other Canadian athletes will have empathy for them."

Probably. But maybe we should take them straight to the laboratory, open up their heads and find out what it is with this Canadian condition of failing to rise to the moment at the Olympic Games.


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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