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COLUMNISTS

Mon, August 30, 2004

If van Koeverden can do it ...


Canadian athletes could use more money in their pockets. But would-be Olympic medallists could also use a little Adam van Koeverden in their hearts.

As the hand-wringing begins about Canada's dismal 12-medal performance here in Athens, the Oakville kayaker should be the poster boy for success.

Edgy to the point of being blunt this past week, he sneered at athletes who aim for top-10 performances and wasn't exactly bubbling with joy after winning his first medal, a bronze.

It was gold he wanted and gold he got Saturday morning at Schinias.

Van Koeverden's two medals were two more than the combined efforts of the track and swimming teams. For two of the higher-profile disciplines of the Games, those numbers are unacceptable.

If other van Koeverdens are to emerge in the bumpy road to Beijing 2008, where will they come from?

The hope in swimming is that the anchor weighing the team down has finally sunk to the bottom of the pool. There are rumblings beleaguered head coach Dave Johnson is on his way out and that would seem to be the consensus first step.

But it won't be enough. More swimmers have to be nurtured at the grassroots level and those who have shown promise must be developed more aggressively than in the past few years.

Track seems to be pointed in the right direction but has gone two consecutive Games without a medal and must prove it over the next quadrennial. Realistically, the team came to Athens with just one legitimate threat -- hurdler Perdita Felicien -- and her tumble in the final will only serve to fuel her.

The world champ from Pickering will be the face of the team heading to Beijing and may inspire many other athletes with potential. But Athletics Canada head coach Alex Gardiner made it clear the medal drought has to end soon.

"It's a long, hard road to Beijing," Gardiner said. "It's going to take an understanding among all of us that we're here now and if you want to get here, you just can't repeat the same things year after year."

If they continue to progress, potential young stars as Angela Whyte (hurdles), Gary Reed (800 metres), Emilie Mondor (10,000 metres) and Malindi Elmore (1,500) should be medal threats in China.

A big factor in Canada's overall medal total was a number of gimmes lipping out.

Two weeks ago, it would have been inconceivable that both Felicien and the men's eight rowing crew could miss the podium altogether and that diver Alexandre Despatie could leave Greece with just one.

As Gardiner said about Felicien, perhaps we started the engraving a little early.

In the opening week of the Games, the rowing team was a huge disappointment, earning just one medal, a silver, from seven boats. Giddy optimists had predicted as many as five. That's just two medals in the past two Olympics from a team that used to bring home a handful every four years.

But Rowing Canada would appear to be in good hands with head coach Brian Richardson. The team has been a force in World Cup events for the past two years and there are plenty of young rowers not far off.

It would be nice to see another Marnie McBean, Kathleen Heddle or Silken Laumann emerge, however.

Elsewhere, the two medals from cycling may just be the start for a Canadian program with some young talent and we made some strides in gymnastics.

The government and corporate Canada can throw all the cash they want at athletes and it would help. But we also need more driven young Canadians to wander into places like the Burloak Canoe Club at the mouth of Sixteen Mile Creek.

Van Koeverden did it as a 15-year-old and look at him now.


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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