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SWIMMING

Tue, July 13, 2004
Peaking at right time
Leier, Powell primed for Olympics
By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun
Swimmer Rhiannon Leier will be heading to Australia to train for the Athens Olympics. Leier competes in the 100 meter breast stroke. (Winnipeg Sun file photo/Brian Donogh)

They were virtually a lock to go to Athens, but there's still something special about officially becoming an Olympian.

To do it the way Rhiannon Leier did is nothing short of spectacular.

Leier is one of two Winnipeggers to secure their places at the Summer Games in recent days, qualifying in the women's 100-metre breaststroke at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Toronto last week.

The other city athlete heading to the Greek capital is rower Jeff Powell, who was named to the crew of the men's eights yesterday.

Both expected to make it to their second Olympics, but the manner in which Leier qualified should make waves around the swim world.

The 27-year-old broke a six-year-old Canadian record, beating her personal best by a full second and turning in one of the fastest times in the world, 1:08.14, in her signature event.


"With that I probably jumped up to about fifth in the world," an ecstatic Leier told The Sun yesterday. "When I touched the wall, I couldn't believe the time that was up there. It just shocked me. It was definitely one of the best moments of my life."

Talk about peaking at the right time, too. Leier and the rest of the swim team leave for final training in Greece in nine days.

She'll hit the pool in Athens Aug. 15, where, suddenly, she's a medal contender -- quite a jump for someone who finished 11th in Sydney.

"For the past four years I've kind of been stuck at the same time, and it felt good to finally break through," Leier said. "Up until this point, I never actually believed I could possibly win a medal. And to now be a lot closer to the podium, I feel very excited. I just want to go and try to have the best race possible, and if I do there's a chance I can do it."

Leier will also compete in the 4x100 medley relay.

Powell and his men's eight crew will be the boat to beat in Athens, after winning back-to-back world championships.

His success, coupled with Leier's dramatic improvement, means all three Manitobans headed for the Games stand a better-than-average chance of reaching the podium.

Dominique Bosshart of Landmark is the defending bronze medallist in taekwondo.

We may not have a deep crop of Olympians this time around, but it's a good one.

TAKING JOY: You can bet track and field followers from around the globe are taking a certain amount of glee from the mess the U.S. finds itself in these days.

We in Canada are no exception.

Winnipeg's Alex Gardiner, head coach of the Canadian team, has long suspected drug use by certain U.S. athletes.

The American house of cards is finally tumbling, thanks in large part to Montreal lawyer Dick Pound and his work rooting out drug cheats with the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"I think Dick Pound and WADA have scared the hell out of people and I hope it continues," Gardiner told reporters in Victoria yesterday. "The fact that they can catch new designer drugs real quickly has got all the cheaters nervous."

And that's great news for all the clean athletes out there.

Like most observers, Gardiner was shocked at what transpired at the U.S. Olympic trials over the weekend, when sprinter Tim Montgomery was one of several big names accused of drug use who failed to qualify for Athens.

Whether it was the increased public pressure on them, or the fact better testing has scared them off drugs doesn't matter.

What matters is the Americans themselves claiming they'll now be the cleanest team in Athens, and how's that for a backhanded confession?

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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