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COLUMNISTS

Fri, July 9, 2004

COC gets a grilling


Nic Macrozonaris doesn't mind admitting there are times he lets his mouth run as fast as his feet.

But it was a well-measured rant yesterday by Canada's reigning fastest man, one supported by others, including this country's top Olympic medal hope, hurdler Perdita Felicien.

The subject of tightened guidelines set by the Canadian Olympic Committee has angered athletes from coast-to-coast in many amateur sports.

So at a windy Centennial Stadium in Victoria, site of this weekend's national track and field championships, the Macro-man took one for his would-be Olympic teammates.

"I'm not putting myself on a pedestal, but I have a big mouth that goes on and on and I'm here to voice my opinion of what amateur athletes feel like," Macrozonaris said.

"We shouldn't be busting our behinds to run after the standard, then go to the Olympics like it's already a prize for us.

"We should be preparing ourselves for the big prize."

To illustrate his point, Macrozonaris pointed to Felicien, sitting a few feet away. Four years ago, both made it not only to their first Olympics, but also their first Canadian team.

And they made it to the Sydney Games with performances that would not be enough to earn a ticket to Athens.

Macrozonaris had a breakthrough 10.19 time at the 2000 Canadian championships, which double as the Olympic trials. It was the only time he met the Athletics Canada "A" standard, which was good enough then, but not now.

TOURIST

It was a similar story for Felicien, who admits she was a wide-eyed 19-year-old who "went to Sydney as a tourist."

But the reigning world 100-metre hurdles champion said the early Olympic experience may be her ace this summer.

"I think it's pivotal (to have had that experience), especially with my situation now and so much on my shoulders," Felicien said. "I'm not going to be star-struck when I get there ... I'll understand what the Olympics are about."

The pride of Pickering said one of the biggest beefs athletes have is that the COC has decreed the last chance to meet its standards is this weekend.

Other countries, meanwhile, can meet track and field performance criteria later this month at big meets in Europe.

The end result of making it difficult to qualify, Felicien said, is that developing athletes see the Olympics as unattainable when they are asked to "walk on your hands upside down."

"It definitely is discouraging," Felicien said.

"If you see what you're facing, you ask 'Why should I even try? ' "

Macrozonaris, meanwhile, said the confidence he gained in 2000 allowed him to defeat American Tim Montgomery last year in Mexico.

"All I know is I would probably lose a lot of experience and would never be able to beat the world-record holder three years later," he said.

Alex Gardiner, the head coach of the Canadian team, sees some flaws in the system as well, acknowledging the experience of 2000 was huge for two of his team's biggest stars.

"I'm sure Perdita will have the memories of Sydney," Gardiner said.

"The size of the stadium, the distractions."

However, Gardiner was careful not to be overly critical of the standards given Athletics Canada helped develop them. Gardiner agreed that a later date to meet standards would help but was told by the COC it was "out of the question."

Also helpful would be a provision for prodigies to get Olympic experience at a young age.

"For the promising or hopeful athlete, I think we need to build something in," Gardiner said. "There are examples all over the place."

One is here this weekend, in fact. Whitby native Priscilla Lopes, an NCAA star at Nebraska, needs to meet the Olympic standard a second time. Heading into this weekend, her situation is strikingly similar to Felicien's four years ago.

"Mark my words, she's going to be a star," Felicien said.

"She needs to make the team for her career."


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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