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COLUMNISTS

Thu, August 26, 2004

Emotions rule the day after!


ATHENS -- When you dream the dream of winning an Olympic gold medal, you dream of the thrill of victory, of standing on the podium, of seeing your flag raised and of hearing your national anthem.

"They don't tell you what happens next. They don't tell you what you have to do if you pull it off," said Canada's latest golden girl.

It was 1:30 p.m. the day after the greatest day of Lori-Ann Muenzer's life, when she became the only cyclist ever to win a gold medal for Canada.

She was entering the big room at Canada House in the Plaka area under the Acropolis. Canada House has been a lonely place these Olympics, with only seven medallists to bring in the next day to share with Canadian fans here in Athens. But Muenzer had made Canada's day the day before and now it was Canadians turn to make hers.

The room was packed and when the Edmonton cyclist entered, the place exploded with applause. She was blown away.

"You didn't tell me about this," she mouthed the silent words to her Canadian Olympic Committee escort.

"I thought we were dropping in for a coffee," she told the crowd about having made a stop at CTV's roof-top Canada A.M. show in the neighbourhood.

"We don't have any," said a host. A fan went out in the square and got her a cup.

Somebody told her they'd been there and watched the race in person and cheered for her until they had almost no voice left.

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear anybody at all," Muenzer smiled. "I kind of blocked everything out. I guess that shows you how bad I wanted it."

She aplogized for looking a little weary.

"I didn't get any sleep," she said. "I went to bed at 8 a.m."

Muenzer stood there and talked for 10 minutes, almost in one breath, saying mostly the things she'd said to the media after she won the women's sprint at the velodrome to become, at age 38, the second-oldest athlete ever to win an Olympic gold medal for Canada.

Touring the town

She'd put the wreath back on her head for her tour around town, doing what you do the day after you win a gold medal. She still had the medal around her neck and still kept feeling it and touching it.

When we left her the night before, Muenzer went to doping control.

"There was a whole slew of us down there and they only had one person to do it. I thought my teeth were going to explode," she said of how bad she had to go.

"I was doubled over in pain. I was starting to sweat. Anna Meares let me go ahead of her," she said of the event favourite she'd gone ahead of two of three races to win the semifinal and advance to the gold-medal sprint.

Muenzer went from there to the International Broadcast Centre. "I started with CBC radio in French and English. Then I did CBC-TV in French and English."

Between CBC interviews she did interviews back home to Edmonton.

Plenty of messages

"I even checked out my e-mail. I had 483 of them since I turned it off and went to the velodrome for the race."

While she'd talked to her coach, Steen Madsen, for a couple minutes by cellphone after her podium press conference, she said that call was weird.

"We were both kind of speechless. We both had so many words to say to each other and couldn't really get the words out to say them. It wasn't until it was about 6:30 a.m. that I had a real chat with him on the phone from the village. That was fantastic. He told me he was totally proud of me. He said it was the best sprints he ever saw me do."

It wasn't until 3 a.m. that Muenzer escaped all the interviews at the IBC. She suggested they go to the Plaka for a drink, but by the time they got there, they couldn't find a bar open that looked like the kind of place they wanted to celebrate winning a gold medal.

Back at the village, she talked with Sherry Gross from Saskatchewan, a member of the support staff she'd befriended at two Olympics and two Commonwealth Games. Before she went to bed, the three rowers she shares an athletes village apartment with woke up and were the first and only athletes she shared the medal with until returning from her Canada House appearance. Two hours sleep and she was awake again to begin a day of commitments she had no idea you have when you win an Olympic gold medal.

"I wasn't feeling so good," she said. "The reality of what I did has sunk in.

"I guess I didn't look too good either. They had a doctor come around to look at me."

Muenzer, who says she's been living off Kraft dinner for 17 years, said she has no idea if her gold can be turned into cash.

"I don't know. Maybe I'll need an agent. I do know I want to share this with a lot of school kids. And maybe some older people, too. I think I proved something about age. The No. 1 thing I want to do with this medal is try to inspire people."

Lori-Ann Muenzer, by the time you read this, will be flying home. She arrives at 11 p.m. in Edmonton and is supposed to be at work the next morning.

"I don't think I'll be doing much work," she said.

"I know I'm going to hit the wall. I know I have to come down from this. They don't tell you about that part, either."


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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