February 21, 2006
Canada first among losersTwo more fourth-place finishes
By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun
SESTRIERE, Italy -- After winning the first run yesterday in the Olympic giant slalom, Francois Bourque said the feeling he had before his final run was, "like someone punched me in the stomach."
Imagine how he felt 1:19.31 later when he looked up to see he'd finished fourth.
It's probably much like the feeling Kelly Vanderbeek had one hour later when her second-place super-G standing with two skiers to go plummeted to fourth.
All this, of course, just two days after team leader Erik Guay was bumped to fourth by the final skier of the day, Hermann Maier - his childhood hero.
(Interestingly, Maier was also Bourque's idol until he bumped Bourque off the podium yesterday.)
In a week-long stretch that saw Allison Forsyth helicoptered off the hill with a torn knee ligament and Guay scratched from two events because of injury, these certainly have been the hard-luck games for Alpine Canada.
Add fourth-place finishes for mogul masher Marc-Andre Moreau, snowboarder Maelle Ricker and skeleton's Paul Boehm and it's official: Canada leads these Olympics in coulda-woulda-shoulda medals.
While Canada is still hanging tough in the gold/silver/bronze count, no other country can boast having six tin.
As Guay reminded everyone - fourth is first of the losers.
No World Cup points, no top-10 cheque - all you can do is shake your head and pray for a positive drug test from the top three.
"For sure at the Olympics it's top three or nothing, so I'm disappointed," said Bourque, 21, whose shoulders slumped when the scoreboard showed his first-run lead turned into a .92-second deficit behind Maier.
"It's not a feeling you like."
The good news in all this, Alpine Canada president Ken Read says, is that all six of Canada's fourth-place finishers here are competing in their first Olympics. And with Vancouver 2010 being the be-all, end-all for winter athletes in Canada, fourth-place finishes bode well. They can have the effect of creating an intense desire to finish the job next time around.
And that's exactly what Jennifer Heil did this year after finishing one one-hundredth of a point out of the medals in Salt Lake City.
"I was 23-hundredths off the podium and I've replayed that run many times in my head," Read said of his first Olympics in 1976 when he finished fifth.
"I do know it positioned me for four years later and that's the good thing in all this."
As a point of interest, Read didn't make the podium four years later due to a wonky binding that ended his run early. But he makes a good point. "In our sport usually the first Olympics you don't deliver - you gain experience and go for it the second time around," said Read, whose ski team is still looking for its first Olympic medal since 1994.
"That's very positive for us looking to 2010."
Rest assured, that was of little consolation to Bourque and Vanderbeek yesterday.
"I'm happy but devastated at the same time," said Vanderbeek, a 23-year-old Kitchener, Ont., native, who has never hit a World Cup podium. "The disappointment really hit when I watched the girls on the podium and heard the national anthem. This gives me a lot of motivation for the next races and the upcoming ski racing seasons. 2010 still seems far for now but I'm definitely motivated for skiing at my best in Vancouver."
As Read says, "The true champions will take it and learn from it."
The others spend a lifetime thinking of what could have been.