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COLUMNISTS

Wed, August 25, 2004

Glory for Lori


ATHENS -- An olive wreath on her head and a gold medal around her neck, Lori-Ann Muenzer stood on the podium with a smile on her face that could light up the Acropolis at night.

On a golden day which was supposed to belong to Perdita Felicien and Alex Despatie, the unheralded Edmonton cyclist became the Simon Whitfield of the XXVIII Olympic Games.

Felicien fell and Despatie managed to steal a silver, but Muenzer came out of the blue to become the first Canadian ever to win a gold medal in the 24-karat sport of cycling at the Olympics.

The only member of the Canadian team at the velodrome at these Games and the oldest woman in cycling here became the first Canadian female ever to medal in sprints on the track.

At age 38, she became the second-oldest Canadian of either sex to win an Olympic gold medal, winter or summer. Only that pistol-packin' mama, 40-year-old Linda Thom in shooting at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won gold at an older age.

"That's all news to me," said the latest champion from the City of Champions.

Scoring a huge upset over Anna Meares of Australia in the semifinal, Muenzer wore No. 6 to win Canada's sixth medal and the nation's second gold of the Athens Olympics while Despatie slipped in for silver at diving for our seventh medal and Felicien went down on the first hurdle at track.

WONDERFUL WIN

The premier event at the velodrome for women at the Olympics was wonderful stuff.

"What an incredible feeling. It's unbelievable. At this first moment, I am not conscious of what just happened," Muenzer said as she passed reporters in the mixed zone on her way to the podium.

"It's like all the stars were aligned. It's like everything went in slow motion.

"I'd say it means the world, but I think it means the universe.

"I came here and tried to enjoy it and not be mesmerized by it, by the five-ring thing."

Muenzer was a picture to behold as they raised the flag. She sang the words as the strains of O Canada carried into the Athens night. It wasn't until the flag reached the top and the last few bars played that Muenzer started to tear up.

"I tried not to lose it," she said of her emotions.

As she sang O Canada, she said she thought of when she used to sing it in school. Boy, she is old.

"An incredible dream just came true. Being on top of the podium at the Olympic Games is something you dream of doing, but you don't know what it's like until you get to the podium."

Five minutes after she posed for pictures on the podium the Edmonton legal secretary sat in the podium press conference, holding her gold medal between the thumb and index finger of both hands as if somebody might try to take it away.

"It's been an incredible week and an incredble journey and an incredible dream come true," she said.

Muenzer said she came to the velodrome just feeling it was going to happen.

"My legs felt a heck of a lot better than they did the night before," she said of the race which sent her to the medal round.

"You know when you know something?" she said of just having the feeling that it was going to be her day of days.

She felt it the night before and called her shot when she hit the mixed zone Monday night.

"I'm undetected. I'm Canada's best-kept secret and I just got unleashed. It's peak week. You guys are getting to see the best rides of my career," she said 24 hours earlier.

"This is possible. This is the strongest I've ever been. After 17 years on Kraft Dinners, I'm here. I'm doing it.

"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 'em hell. I'm going to leave everything I have on the track trying to get it. I won't have any excuses."

Muenzer felt all that and more after she won the semifinal, beating the favourite, Meares of Australia, who had set a world record five days earlier in the 500-metre time trial.

She put Russian Tamilla Abassova away in the final like she wasn't there.

IT WAS HER DAY

"I rode here. I said, 'Sorry, I'm in charge.' It was my day."

And what a day.

"It's an extraordinary accomplishment," said national team coach Eric van den Eynde. "And the best part is she's a Canadian, living in Canada and trained in Canada. She's Canadian all the way."

On what was supposed to be a two-gold-medal day with Felicien and Despatie, Lori-Ann Muenzer came through for Canada and saved the day.


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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