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COLUMNISTS

Tue, August 24, 2004

Muenzer muscles her way in


ATHENS -- The old gal had them standing three deep in the mixed zone.

"I'm undetected. I'm Canada's best-kept secret. I just got unleashed," Lori-Ann Muenzer enthused.

Yesterday the one-person team, who gets her coaching by phone from home in Edmonton where her Field Law workmates watch her race from the CBC studios a few blocks away, made the medal round in sprint cycling on a wheel borrowed from the French.

"It's peak week. You guys are getting to see the best rides of my career," she told her suddenly sizable media scrum. "This is the ultimate. I'm 38. I'm the oldest woman at the Olympics in my sport. Most of the others are in their 20s.

'THIS IS POSSIBLE'

"This is possible. This is the strongest I've ever been. I kept doing this because I believed I could still go faster.

"I proved it Friday," she said of setting a personal best and a Canadian record, finishing seventh in the 500-metre time trial. "After 17 years on Kraft Dinners, I'm here. I'm doing it."

It may turn out that the legal secretary ends up as one of the record number of Canadian athletes finishing in fourth place at these Olympics. But there are three other places she could finish, too, and they all mean a medal and a place on the podium.

And all of a sudden it was all coming back to when she was a 10-year-old girl.

"We would line up at one end of the street and someone would yell, 'Ready, set, go' and we would race as far as we could to the last car parked at the end of the street."

Having always ridden a bike as a child it wasn't until she was 23 that she decided to try "to go faster and farther on a bike that weighed less than 44 pounds."

For all those years since, she's been the stereotypical Canadian athlete, finding small personal sponsorships and stretching every dollar to compete internationally. She says she'd love to have her coach Steen Madsen here but can't because there's no money to bring him.

"I don't have $10,000 to get him here," she said. So she goes it alone. "There's a lot of pressure. I'm the whole Canadian team here. But this is the right time. I'll talk to him on the phone at home again tonight. I have unconditional trust in Steen. He's a great mentor, coach and training partner."

It's a strange life when you're ignored for four years and then all of a sudden there's pressure to perform and win medals by a country which doesn't have much time for all the athletes finishing fourth.

"It's not always about medals. It's about giving it everything you've got until you can't eke out anything more," she said.

But a medal is possible. Three of the four people left in the event are going to get one. It's like baseball with Canada, Cuba, Japan and Australia.

"I'm the underdog. I'm going to enjoy the day. I have it all planned out. I'm going to go out and rip the track apart and give 'er hell!

"I'm going to pull out all the rabbits. Make that all the jackrabbits. I'm from Alberta. You can't believe the size of some of those jackrabbits."

YOUNG ENOUGH TO BE HER DAUGHTER

Thirteenth in the sprint at the Sydney Olympics and 11th at the 2003 world championships, Muenzer raised a few eyebrows when she won a bronze medal at the world championships this year. Those eyes are now popping after she beat Daniel Larreal-Chirnos of Venezuela 2-0 in the best-of-three quarter-final yesterday. She now advances to the semifinal against Anna Mears of Australia, the 20-year-old who set a world record in the time trial.

"It's going to be like Martina Navratilova playing Jennifer Capriati when she was 16. I'm old enough for her to be my kid."

The kid says there's a lot of respect for Muenzer and her mission.

"I think she's a great lady. What she's done here at the Olympics just shows what a competitor she is," said Mears.

"At the Commonwealth Games in Manchester two years ago, she absolutely annihilated me. We needed three races to decide it at both the Sydney Cup and the world championships. It was 2-1 and 2-1."

Muenzer said the world championships was a race.

"I won the first race. She won the second. And she took the third by one pixel."

The form chart suggests Muenzer is overmatched against the Australian but if Svetlana Grankovskaya beats fellow Russian Tamilla Abassova, the experts at the velodrome believe she would have a serious shot for bronze.

The book on Muenzer has always been that she can beat you with her strength but she can have trouble with tactics.

In the second run against Larreal-Charinos, Muenzer showed she could win with tactics.

"I have to be smarter and faster. It's who wants it. I want it. And I'm going to leave everything I have on the track trying to go get it. I won't have any excuses."

You gotta love a Canadian who thinks like that.


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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