Ex-Olympian passes torch

PAUL TURENNE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:27 PM ET

For someone who has raced against the likes of Bruny Surin and Michael Johnson, the Third Canadian Francophone Games may seem like small potatoes.

But Antoine Boussombo, a two-time Olympian who is in Winnipeg this weekend coaching Alberta's track team at the Games, knows the importance of an event like this to a young athlete.

"I have a young team, but it's very important for them to see this because it gives them the motivation," said Boussombo. "The level of organization at these Games is very, very professional, so it gives them an idea what to expect."

If anyone could be considered an authority on large-scale track events, it's Boussombo.

NOTHING COMPARABLE

The 37-year-old Edmonton resident competed for his native country of Gabon at both the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics, where he ran the 100-metre and 200-metre sprints.

"It was like a whole other dimension," Boussombo said of his Olympic experience. "There is nothing comparable to that atmosphere. You just want it to continue forever. You don't want it to stop."

Boussombo made the quarter-finals in both events in Sydney in 2000, where he scored a career best time of 10.13 seconds in the 100 metres.

He has also competed at four IAAF world track and field championships.

In fact, it was during the 2001 world championships in Edmonton that Boussombo defected to Canada.

He adopted his de facto home, and is now studying education at the University of Alberta, where he also competes for the Golden Bears track team. He has found success with the U of A, being named Canada West Male Track Athlete of the Year in 2003-04 and winning this year's Male Athlete Community Involvement Award for his volunteer work with the Alberta Francophone Multicultural Association and the 2004 Canadian Paralympic Championships, among other things.

He is also coaching Alberta's track team here at the Francophone Games, something his proteges seem to appreciate.

"He's a very good coach. You can really tell he knows what he's talking about," said Alberta's Lisa Robichaud. "He doesn't pressure us. He concentrates more on our personal bests and not comparing ourselves to others."

Boussombo said he really enjoys coaching the kids, and is in the process of starting up his own track club in Edmonton called the Sprint Academy, which he hopes to have up and running next year.

"Eventually I'd like to also create a website where kids can get information on sprinting. Many of them don't have coaches and they don't know where to get the information they need."

Another Francophone Games figure with Olympic roots is Gaetan Robitaille, Quebec's chef de mission.

Robitaille, who is now executive director of Sport Quebec, was the manager of Canada's national women's hockey team from 1999 to 2002, including during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, where his team took home the gold medal.

GAMES ROUNDUP: Quebec's Annie Larose won her third medal of the Games yesterday. She has earned a medal in every throwing event, including a bronze in the javelin, a silver in shotput and a gold on a record-setting toss in yesterday's discus competition.

Manitoba won four bronze medals yesterday. Sarah-Anne Brault finished third in the women's 800 metres, Alexandre Auclair picked up a bronze in the boys shotput, Joel Laurier finished third in the boys 800 metres and Zacharie Durand won his third medal of the games (including two silvers) by placing third in the boys high jump.

Manitoba will have a chance for two gold medals in volleyball, as both the boys and girls teams will be playing in today's final, both against Quebec.

The Third Canadian Francophone Games wrap up today, with closing ceremonies running at Provencher Park in St. Boniface at 3:30 p.m.


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