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COLUMNISTS

Sat, August 21, 2004

Lady is a champ


Tomorrow, as expected, Emilie Heymans will dive for her second medal of the Olympic Games, maybe gold. And tomorrow, Myriam Boileau will dive for herself, her family, for medical science and for everything she has gone through.

She won't need any trip to the podium to experience triumph. She won't need any colour of medal to validate her Olympics, here at Athens.

Her smile said more than her words yesterday at the Olympic aquatic centre, and on a Canadian team that can't seem to win events or protests, Boileau stands out for her stunning story and for her personal accomplishment.

"For me, this is a gift I want to appreciate," she said in her second language. "I'm not focusing on a medal or a top seven or top 10. I just want to dive well, have fun, enjoy myself, and realize what I've accomplished. That would be a good mission for me."

Getting here was her victory. Competing in the final, assuming she gets through today's compulsory round, is her gold medal.

Two years ago, Boileau couldn't touch her toes, let alone do a hand-stand on a 10-metre platform. The simple things, like getting through the day, were debilitating enough. Never mind diving, driving a few blocks in a car without having to stop, get out, and stretch was next to impossible.

THAT MUCH PAIN

She was in that much pain. And she had that little hope of ever competing again -- let alone getting this far, making it to the final 12 in the Olympic Games.

Twice, when she was healthy, she had tried to qualify for the Olympics and both times, in 1996 and 2000, she came up short. The first time she lost out by a single point; the second time wasn't close.

There was never supposed to be a third try when Boileau underwent experimental surgery on her back in December 2002. She was, in essence, a medical and sporting guinea pig. While she was awake, a hot wire, threaded by a needle, was inserted in her spine to deal with two herniated discs and a pinched sciatic nerve. No athlete had ever undergone a similar operation expecting to come back.

And there she was yesterday afternoon, shaking inside and out as she walked up the steps of the platform for her first dive. Suddenly noticing the Olympic rings painted on the pool wall, comprehending how her journey had taken her. "I was, like, so nervous," she said.

Her first dive -- a back 1 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists -- showed it.

"I was concerned," national diving coach Mitch Geller said. "She really played it safe. She was really holding back."

"Then I thought 'I've trained too many years to screw up,' " Boileau said.

And then she didn't: In five dives, she went from 19th, to 14th to 13th to 10th to ninth. She saved her best for last. Boileau didn't just advance to the next round, she left an impression.

"It was a pleasure to watch her," said Geller, who then corrected himself. "No, it was a privilege."

After her final dive, like an excited Wimbledon champion, the 26-year-old Boileau ran into the crowd in search of her parents. "I'm so grateful for them," she said, beaming, "for all they did, for all of this. This moment, I had to share it with them."

Minutes before that on the pool deck, her coach, Yi Hua Li, was standing and applauding in admiration of Boileau after the last of her five dives in the preliminary round. "Am I in?" the athlete shouted.

A pumped fist from the coach answered her query. Words could not express what either was feeling.


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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