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COLUMNISTS

Sat, August 14, 2004

Will less equal more?


They waved and skipped with as much enthusiasm as any team at the opening ceremony last night in Athens as they trailed Canadian flag-bearer Nicolas Gill into Olympic Stadium. But when the closing ceremony arrives after two weeks of competition, how much bounce will the members of Team Canada have in their step?

The road to get to these Games has been one of the most difficult Canadian athletes have ever faced.

Toughened standards by the Canadian Olympic Committee have been the source of outrage for athletes during the months leading up to the 2004 Games.

After much hand-wringing and complaining about poor funding for amateur sport, the COC altered its mandate, purportedly to focus on developing winners.

As the competition begins to unfold, we'll learn whether the stated goal to chase medals and leave the tourists at home, has begun to pay off.

If it has, it will have to come from a much more compact team. The roster of 267 Maple Leaf-adorned athletes is sharply trimmed from the 311 in Sydney in 2000 and the fewest for a summer team since the 220 that represented the country at Munich in 1972.

Canadian officials are reluctant to issue specific medal targets but it is clear they want more than the meek 14 collected four years ago.

Given the resurgence of the rowing team and the superstar tandem of divers Emilie Heymans and Alexander Despatie, who are multiple threats themselves, that shouldn't be an issue.

Getting to within sniffing distance of the 22 won just eight years ago in Atlanta, however, seems unlikely.

While the overall numbers may not end up being spectacular, the upside for Canada is that a mittful of gold is not out of the question.

Heymans and Despatie, Perdita Felicien in the 100-metre women's hurdles and two or three in rowing would be a nice start.

Throw in Karen Cockburn in trampoline plus one of the women wrestlers, as that sport makes its Olympic debut, and the Canadian team could match the most gold medals it has won at a non-boycotted Summer Games.

The previous high was seven in Barcelona in '92, but historically we have averaged just two gold in the 21 summer Games (not including the 10 in the heavily boycotted Los Angeles Games of 1984).

So where will the rest of Canada's medals be mined? A haul of four and perhaps five in rowing is a reasonable projection and add a couple in canoe/kayak.

Diving could yield four and gymnastics/trampoline a pair.

Don't count on more than Felicien at the track venue, however, although here's a hunch that Brampton high jumper Mark Boswell will have a good showing.

Sydney golden boys Daniel Igali (wrestling) and judoka Nicholas Gill may be past their prime and could be a reach to make the podium.

But the debut of women's wrestling should bring at least one, baseball is a possibility and reigning Olympic champion Simon Whitfield should be competitive in the triathlon if his recent food poisoning didn't knock too much out of him.

In the women's triathlon, don't count out Jill Savege nor Alison Sydor in cycling. And let's count on a couple of surprise trips to the podium that no one could see coming.

When the COC made its changes, it didn't expect success overnight so this may take a few more Games. Even though they don't like to admit it, you can bet the country's sports bureaucrats will indeed be counting medals.

The rest of us sure will be.


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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