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SWIMMING

Fri, August 20, 2004
What went wrong?
'Peg Olympian hanging up goggles, going back to school
By -- Winnipeg Sun

It's been the Canadian story of the Summer Games: what in the name of Mark Tewksbury is happening in the pool?

It's been a dozen years since Calgary's Tewksbury won Canada's last swimming gold medal.

In Sydney four years ago, this country's total haul was one bronze, which is one more medal than Canadian swimmers had produced in Athens going into the last day of competition.

No sport has produced more hand-wringing, though, at these Olympics. The critics are out in full force, the head coach is under the gun and some of the athletes have begun to point fingers.

Yesterday, Winnipeg's Rhiannon Leier emerged from the choppy water with a cold slap of common sense.

"I know a lot of people on the team are pointing fingers at different people," Leier told The Sun in an interview from the Athletes Village. "But I think sometimes swimmers have to look within, and realize they are ultimately responsible for their performance."

PERFECT EXAMPLE

In some ways, Leier is a perfect example of this year's Canadian team.

After an 11th place finish in Sydney, her first Olympics, the 27-year-old went to Athens with high hopes, particularly after burning up the pool in her signature event, the 100-metre breaststroke, at the Olympic trials in Toronto last month.

Her goal, to challenge for a medal, was dashed when she failed to make it through the semifinal.

Since then, Leier's story has been repeated over and over by swimmers from across the country, and the teeth have been at full gnash all week.

BORROWED TIME

Rick Say, for instance, called out his teammates for their performance in the men's 4x200 relay. Many observers believe long-time head coach Dave Johnson is on borrowed time for a program that's had more than its share of recent controversy.

And the media hasn't backed off, either.

Leier, though, chose not to share the blame with anybody.

"Maybe just (because of) the stress of the Olympics and the whole event, I wasn't able to get everything together, mentally and physically," she said. "It's funny. Coming into this Olympics I thought I had a lot more international experience and I'd be a lot more ready. But the Olympics is so different. Because it's not just the swimming, it's everything that goes into it -- living in the Village, the media, the pressure and expectations from home and everyone that's supporting you.

"I think I just wasn't as sharp and as focused as I was in Toronto, and I think that made the difference."

Kind of refreshing, isn't it -- regardless of what you think about the swim program and its coach.

Maybe Leier simply has the perspective of someone who'd just wrapped up her competitive career.

After five years on the national team, the Canadian record holder told The Sun she's hanging up her goggles and going back to school.

"This is the first time I've actually officially stated it," she said, as if coming to grips with the decision. "So yeah, this is it. That's why I look back on this race and I realize it's just one race. I feel very proud of all the things I've done. I never thought I'd go to the Olympics, and I've gone to two.

"Everyone has their highs and everyone has their lows. It's just too bad one of my lows was here at the Olympics. Twelfth in the world, or 11th, isn't too bad."

No, come to think of it, it's not. How many of us can say we're in the world's top-12 in what we do?

You know, if Leier does that in her next career, she'll be looking down at some of the same critics who've been blasting the swim team.

You see, Leier is going to Red River College.

She plans to join the media.


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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