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PARALYMPICS

Thu, September 23, 2004
She's our golden girl
Cote 3-for-3 at at Paralympics
By -- Winnipeg Sun

Every so often, everything comes together for an athlete at exactly the right time. Canadian sports fans might find that a difficult concept to grasp, coming off the Summer Olympics. But it's true.

For an example, look no further than Winnipeg swimmer Kirby Cote.

For the better part of four years, Cote has worked like a demon, training 24 hours a week while squeezing in 12 hours of university classes and another 20 hours in her part-time job at Home Depot.

It was all done in relative obscurity.

Of course, that would change when Cote took to the big stage at the Paralympic Games in Athens.

SACRIFICES SEEM TRIVIAL


When she climbed onto that starting block, the stadium would be packed, the camera flashes would be popping and the results reported around the world.

Well, they're coming in now, and they scream one thing: Cote is clutch.

The 20-year-old won another gold medal yesterday, making it three-for-three -- and she hasn't competed in her signature event, yet.

"I've been training so hard, all year -- it's just all coming together," Cote said via cellphone from Athens. "All those sacrifices I made and all those things I missed out on seem really trivial now. Everything is like falling into my lap. All my races feel really automated. I've done them so many times before."

But never quite like this.

Cote has already set two personal bests, which is exactly how you script an Olympic athlete's training. Problem is, the script often gets lost on the way to the podium.

"My motto is no regrets," she said. "If I just do the absolute best that I can do, making sure every single race I'm in absolute pain ... I don't want to leave this pool thinking I could have swum faster."

Not likely.

Her time of one minute, 1.74 seconds in yesterday's 100-metre freestyle (Rhea Schmidt of Winnipeg was sixth) was her best ever, and came on the heels of gold medals in Sunday's 100-metre butterfly, another personal best, and Monday's 400 freestyle.

The whole thing has her coach, Tom Hainey, sitting back in amazement.

"It's an incredible environment here," Hainey said. "Thousands and thousands, it's a sold-out stadium. There's tons of hype and tons of media. You get your athlete up there, and a million things you worry about. And then to see her execute not just one race, but two races and now three races, yeah, I'm proud.

"She's the flagship for the Manta program right now."

And don't think they're not eating it up down at the Club.

"The kids follow her on the Internet, and we've got her stuff on the board," Manta coach Dave Guthrie said. "You go to the cafeteria or around the deck ... everyone's pretty pumped. We're also planning a welcoming at the airport when she gets back next week."

REAL GAMBLE

They might want to bring a wheelbarrow.

Because Cote, who has just 10% vision, has four more events in Athens, including her favourite, tomorrow's 200 individual medley. By the time she comes home, she'll be wearing more precious metal than Mr. T in his prime.

Turns out Hainey didn't really want her to sign up for all seven races.

"It's a nine-day meet, and I knew the kind of training that was required is ridiculous," he said. "There's a real gamble in training that way. Sure, you might be fit, but you might take some of the edge off the event.

"This meet is going to knock the crap out of her."

Cote, though, relishes the challenge.

"Something told me to just do them all," she said. "I don't know for sure if I'm going to stick around for four more years. If this was going to be my last Games, I was going to go out with a bang."

We're hearing it, loud and clear.


  

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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