Smash-up derby

TURIN, Italy -- You've probably heard the jokes about short track, that it's more like roller-derby on ice than it is speed skating.

That in mind, the Canadian short track team got a fitting introduction to the Winter Games when their bus got into an accident on the way back from a practice on one of their first days in Turin.

Nothing like a little Italian shake, rattle and roll to get ready for your first race.

"Our bus hit a car, or the car hit the bus," a smiling Tania Vicent was saying yesterday. "It was a small car, and we're a huge bus, so it wasn't a big deal for us. But I guess for the little car it was a bigger deal."

I guess.

"It was a Pinto," Eric Bedard chipped in. "The driver's side was a little bit crunchy."

Immediately, you imagine a scene where the driver of the Pinto gets out and starts yelling and gesturing at the Team Canada bus driver.

"There was no Italian yelling," Vicent said, grinning, but sounding disappointed, just the same. "We were afraid for the person in the car. But when we saw ... that they were all right, then we started laughing. I wouldn't be laughing if someone would be hurting. I think they're used to accidents here. It seems that way."

Any Canadian on the streets of Turin these last few days knows exactly what Vincent is talking about. Let's just say it's hard to figure out the rules of the road.

Which brings us back to short track. Despite the occasional pileup that occurs, skaters, understandably, don't like the comparison to roller-derby.

"I would say more like NASCAR," Vicent said. "I don't think a car wants to hit another car, but the passing is so tight sometimes ... accidents happen."

So do medals, particularly for Canadians. In case you've forgotten, our short trackers were the country's top medal-producers in Salt Lake City, with six.

The most memorable, depending on your point of view, were either the golds won by Marc Gagnon and the men's relay team, or the bronze Mathieu Turcotte literally stumbled into. That's the one where everybody except the Australian skater fell near the finish line.

Turcotte won his bronze while on his behind.

"I'm proud of that medal," Turcotte said. "You can't quit in a race ... you always have a chance to come back. You never know what's going to happen. It's not over till the line is crossed."

Regardless what you cross it with.

But this group, minus Gagnon, has more than bizarre luck on its side. They're not only extremely fast, they know it. They're confident, bordering on cocky.

"We can do the relay with closed eyes, now," Bedard said. "We know each other ... we have confidence in each other. We (have) so much speed. We are seven seconds faster than four years ago. We are better now than the Koreans, the Czechs, the Chinese and the Italians. We are the team to beat this year."

You leave anything out, Eric?

"We won Nagano, we won the Salt Lake City gold. Last year we won the world team championship, we won the world championship relay, we set the world record. So this year in practice we beat that by a couple of seconds. So I don't think those countries can beat the world record in practice. We do. And probably they know that.

"If they don't know, they're gonna have a surprise, for sure."

Bedard compares short track to Formula-One racing. And he says Canada has the best car.

So expect another six-medal performance. They all but guarantee it.

Turcotte has one additional wish.

"I wish for a perfect race, and win a medal," he said. "And everyone stays on their feet."

Now what fun would that be?