THE FIRST TIME Perdita Felicien recalls noticing track and field at the Olympics, she wasn't even in high school. "I remember seeing the picture in the Toronto Sun of Donovan Bailey raising his finger in the air as he crossed the finish line," the world champion hurdler from Pickering said. "I thought, 'That's pretty cool.' "
Cool yes, but the Canadian track program has been on ice ever since.
Bailey won gold in the men's 100 metres in Atlanta in 1996, then was the key on the 4x100 team, which did the same.
Sadly, that was the last Canadian medal at what is arguably the signature event of a Summer Games.
Athletics Canada head coach Alex Gardiner was blunt yesterday, saying it's going to take commitment on the part of coaches and athletes to turn the corner.
"We've just got to get a lot better in how we prepare athletes for high-performance sport," Gardiner said after the Athens meet wrapped up without a medal for Canada.
"We don't have the luxury of the depth of field like the U.S. where the first four guys can get stuck on the bus and the next four can step up and win."
There were some credible performances here from some of the younger Canadian athletes but no real threats for medals.
Carmen Douma-Hussar of Cambridge was the last shot, and though she ran the race of her life last night, she was ninth in the women's 1,500-metre final.
"I knew coming into this race that we had no medals in the track meet and it would be cool to bring one home," Douma-Hussar said. "It's a young team, especially the women, and everyone is looking forward and trying to be here again in 2008."
Gardiner, who took over as Athletics Canada head coach in 2003, said athletes new to the elite level are going to have to be pushed if they expect to be around for those Games in Beijing.
And to do that, they'll have to evaluate their commitment.
"We have to ask the basic question: How many hours a week are you training?" Gardiner said. "If you are training 12, you are not training enough. How many sessions? If you are doing five, you aren't doing enough.
"If you are not doing nine to 11 sessions a week and 20-plus hours, you are going to be left behind.
"It's a long, hard road to Beijing. We have to get the message out there it can't be the same as last year. You have to think about what you are going to do with the next four years of your career."
It will be 12 years and counting without a medal when the Chinese Games arrive, equalling the longest drought the Canadian program has ever seen.
The good news is that there is a bright young core of athletes that gathered Olympic experience here in Athens.
Runners like Gary Reed (men's 800 metres) Charles Allen (hurdles), Malindi Elmore and Douma-Hussar (women's 1,500 metres) all would seem to have big upside.
The downside is that the best Canadian performance in Greece was sixth.
The obvious hook for the future will be Felicien, the world champion who crashed over the first hurdle in Tuesday's 100-metre hurdles final and didn't finish.
Assuming she stays healthy and motivated, Felicien, who turns 24 today, likely will go to the Beijing Games as the great Canadian hope.
"I don't think there will be a morale fallout from the athletes, but there might be from me," Gardiner said about being shut out in Greece. "It's always nice to win a medal. We were engraving one (for Felicien) too early.
"I don't think it's going to be a malaise that settles over the team for four years."
If there is, they may hear about it from Gardiner.