Making beautiful music

TURIN -- Lise Leblanc clutched the bouquet of roses and carnations as if it were her baby girl.

Minutes earlier, it had been thrown to her by her baby girl, 21-year-old Anouk Leblanc-Boucher, Canada's newest Olympic medallist.

"There's no word to describe the feeling," Leblanc said through a nearby, spur-of-the-moment interpreter, her eyes on the verge of overflowing. "It's the cherry on top of everything."

Next to her, Henri Boucher tried to describe what he felt sharing his daughter's bronze medal moment at the Palavela short track speed skating facility here last night.

"That was emotional," Boucher said, putting a finger under his eye. "I believed it was possible. It's an accomplishment for her and for us, too. Because it's a long way to get there."

A long journey, perhaps, but the last 500 metres went by in a heartbeat.

When Leblanc-Boucher crossed the finish line after a furious 4 1/2 laps, she was maybe a toe length ahead of the fourth-place finisher, Chinese skater Tianyu Fu.

"I was so nervous, I thought my heart will blow," Boucher said. "It was so close, I think even the coaches weren't sure."

Such is the gap between euphoria and pain at the Olympics, measured in hundredths of a second.

One minute we see team veteran Alanna Kraus of Abbotsford, B.C., unsuccessfully fight off tears after failing to make the 500-metre final.

The next we see a youngster like Leblanc-Boucher weeping for joy, reaching over the rink boards to hug her coach, blowing a kiss and tossing flowers to her parents, then skating away with a Canadian flag waving in her hands.

"It's like a dream come true," Leblanc-Boucher said, and it didn't sound one bit like a cliche.

Thankfully, 21-year-olds haven't usually learned cliches, yet. But this one has sure learned quickly how to skate.

Leblanc-Boucher's story actually begins in the small town of Prevost, Que., where she loves to snowshoe through the woods surrounding the family home, her black Lab in tow.

A short and long track speed skater since she was nine, Leblanc-Boucher came to a fork in the path at age 13: move to Calgary to pursue long track, or to Montreal for short track.

With Prevost just 70 kms from Montreal, the decision was obvious.

A broken ankle four years ago slowed her down, but didn't stop her, and by 2004, she was the world junior champ in the 500.

"She's a worker," her dad said, a claim backed up by her fellow skaters.

Charles Hamelin, a 21-year-old on the men's team, has come up through the ranks with Leblanc-Boucher, and watched her turn herself into an Olympian in an incredibly short time.

"After each practice, she was doing starts and starts and starts," Hamelin said. "Because she knows the Chinese skater has a really good start."

It turns out Leblanc-Boucher has another advantage going at the start line, one her parents would never have dreamed would help her.

"The violin courses she took before helped her to concentrate better," her dad said. "Can you believe it?"

His daughter does.

"I would agree," Leblanc-Boucher said. "It helps me for a lot of things."

The tune she played yesterday had the entire short track team singing.