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COLUMNISTS

Thu, August 26, 2004

Fell into our hearts


The clips will make for wonderful television. The sweet sound bites will be devoured like ice cream from a spoon. The shots of Perdita Felicien soon will be so familiar we will know them by heart.

The reality? Somehow, all that seems lost in the unfortunate Olympic story of the hurdler, Felicien.

We want to believe in her -- and so now we do.

We want to be proud of her -- and so we are.

We want to embrace her -- and so a nation passes on its love.

Who knows, by today Felicien may be a bigger hero for, in her words, "crashing and burning," than she might have been had she won a gold medal at the Olympic Stadium here in Athens on Tuesday. That is the astounding and perhaps explainable dynamic of a Canadian public that is too often difficult to comprehend.

We weep as a nation far better than we celebrate, which is why Felicien remains front page while Lori-Ann Muenzer, gold-medal winner, is yesterday's news.

Felicien was brave in facing the music yesterday at her own news conference. And we just eat up brave, strong, defeated athletes, even the ones who fall flat on their faces and get up saying that if they had to do it again, they wouldn't change a thing.

Never mind trying to make sense of that one. Felicien repeated it over and over again yesterday. She wouldn't change a thing. "I came here to run with my heart and proved that I did that," she said.

Context time: She may, in fact, have run with her heart. Who are we to question that? But what she did do is get her lead leg nowhere near the height required to clear the first hurdle of the 100-metre race.

Context time: She didn't, in her words, clip the hurdle. Every replay shows that. She hit the hurdle, square, knocking herself and another competitor out of the race. She wasn't close to getting over the first hurdle.

Context time: She had never knocked down a first hurdle in any race in her career before the Olympic final. She had never before had a DNF (did not finish) beside her name in any international race of consequence. She can't remember the last time she hit a hurdle in practice. Aside from all that, she wouldn't change a thing.

Or as Canadian track coach Alex Gardiner said in explaining the race: "The gun went off and she was on her face."

Felicien, offering a meandering many words but few answers to most questions, said it was all a matter of millimetres.

You watch the race. You be the judge.

She said she wouldn't do anything different.

You watch the race. You be the judge.

She said the pressure didn't get to her.

You watch the race. You be the judge.

And if her e-mail and our e-mail is any real indicator, the support at home for a fallen heroine is reaching national proportions.

"Every time I read (an e-mail) I got teary-eyed," Felicien said. "It has touched me and I've cried a lot about it ...

"When I fell, thousands fell with me. When I cried, thousands of people cried with me. People felt my pain."

Lost in all this love and angst and support is Lori Ann Muenzer, who wasn't on Cheerios boxes or television commercials or any advertisements to sell the Olympics and made the grave error of winning on the day Felicien lost.

She probably doesn't have an agent or endorsements or anyone telling her how to spin her story. That's left for the richer athletes in the richer sports.

The longest e-mail Perdita Felicien received yesterday was from her psychologist. And the day she fell hard, she kept assuring herself that "nobody died." But on the track, after she had fallen, she had a most relevant thought while watching the race she was supposed to be running in.

"I said 'Look at that, remember how it looks, remember how it feels,' " Perdita Felicien said. "That's why I'm not taking any meds (for the ankle she injured in the fall).

"I want to feel the pain a little longer."


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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