1988 SEOUL OLYMPICS

RUMORS OF GLORY

CHRIS WOOD September 12 1988
1988 SEOUL OLYMPICS

RUMORS OF GLORY

CHRIS WOOD September 12 1988

RUMORS OF GLORY

THE CANADIANS

It will not be 1984-II. Four years ago, at the sun-drenched and quintessentially American Olympics in Los Angeles, Canadian athletes collected a record of 44 gold, silver and bronze medals. But that was against a depleted field boycotted by 15 Communist countries, including two of the world’s reigning sports superpowers—the Soviet Union and East Germany. For the sequel in Seoul, only Cuba among the strong contenders played coy. Against the best, Canada’s medal count is certain to be lower than it was in Los Angeles, but the drama and excitement will not diminish as 353 Canadian athletes take part in the first truly global Games in 16 years.

Said Abby Hoffman, director general of Sport Canada: “The 1988 Seoul Games should be by far the best showing that a Canadian team has ever had.”

That optimism is based on the impressive number of potential Canadian medallists poised to mount podiums in South Korea. Ben Johnson, lionized as the fastest man in the world after his record-breaking 100-m sprint in Rome last August, will battle his American archrival, Carl Lewis. And a horse named Big Ben, a powerful chestnut gelding, will hold the key to equestrian Ian Millar’s chance of show-jumping his way to gold (page 50).

In the swimming pool, lanky 15-

year-old Allison Higson will try to better her own world record in the 200-m breaststroke and strike gold. And at least a dozen more medal hopefuls will carry Canada’s colors on the track, in the pool and in the boxing, gymnastics, shooting and ocean sailing events. Overall, the team has a solid chance to win as many as 16 medals—11 more than Canadians brought home from Munich in 1972, the last Summer Games not severely affected by boycotts.

But the price of glory is high. Canada’s 1988 Summer Games team will be the most expensive ever. Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Association (COA) and 27 sports-governing bodies

have spent close to $35 million since 1984 to coach and train the Olympians. And it will cost an additional $3.2 million to transport the athletes, their 140 coaches and trainers, and tons of equipment—ranging from Ben Johnson’s racing shoes to Halifax yachtsman Paul Thomson’s 2,200-lb. boat—to South Korea. The return on that investment will be measured not only in medals but in the number of Canadians who reach the semifinals or finish in the top eight in their events. Said Jack Lynch, the COA’s technical director: “We are looking for 90 per cent of the team to meet or exceed that standard.”

But other nations have also increased their Olympic efforts. Most conspicuously, China has emerged as a legitimate competitor in virtually every sport (page 72). Observed Hoffman: “If there are any surprises in Seoul, they will come from China.” At the same time, East Germany, the Soviet Union and the other Eastern European nations are expected, as always, to be strong in track and field, swimming and gymnastics. And they are likely to dominate the rowing and canoeing events, which produced 12 Canadian medals, including three

golds, in 1984. And, as Lynch noted, “The Bulgarian and Soviet element wipes out our medal chances in weightlifting.” In addition, Soviet tennis star Natalia Zvereva, ranked eighth in world standings, is expected to be a potent challenger in tennis, where Canada’s top-ranked entry, Toronto’s Helen Kelesi, is rated 23rd.

The return of Eastern European competitors should have less impact on sailing and equestrian events, but nowhere will the stepped-up competition be more evident than at the Olympic swimming pool. When Brampton, Ont.’s Allison Higson mounts the starting block on Sept. 21, her two closest rivals will be East German Silke Hörner— whose 200-m breasted stroke world record I Higson shattered with s her new mark of I 2:27.27 on May 29 in o Montreal—and China’s >c Xiaomin Huang. For 5 the shy, blond teenager, the moment will represent the triumph of talent and determination. Higson swam for the first time at age 5, when a doctor recommended the activity to forestall developing asthma symptoms. The asthma disappeared, and Allison’s talent emerged. Two years later, she entered her first competition. Since 1981, noted her father, Thomas Higson, “she has not had a holiday free from swimming.”

Indeed, a gruelling six-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week training schedule that begins at 5 a.m. leaves little time for a social life. “I don’t miss it,” she says. “I don’t know what there is to miss.” Higson, who will enter Grade 11 following the Games carrying an 82-percent scholastic average, is equally single-minded about her Olympic goals: “A gold medal, and to break my own world record.” And she leaves no doubt about how she intends to defeat Hörner and Huang. Declared Higson: “You make them chase you right off the start.”

Other Canadian swimmers chasing medals in Seoul include Montreal’s Victor Davis, 24, a silver medallist in the men’s 100-m breaststroke in Los Angeles. In the 200-m version of that event, both Calgary’s Jon Cleveland,

17, and Edmonton’s 18-year-old Cameron Grant were rated among the world’s five fastest competitors after Olympic qualifying trials in June. Butterfly specialist Tom Ponting, 24, of Calgary, and 24-year-old Etobicoke, Ont., backstroker Sean Murphy also finished in the top five in tune-ups for the Games and will be looking for medals.

At the track, several Canadians have a chance to emerge from the shadows cast by the Ben Johnson show. In January, sprinter Angella Issajenko from Toronto matched the world indoor record for the 50-m dash. When not racing or training, Issajenko and her husband, Tom—a former sprinter—spend time renovating the home the couple share with their daughter, Sasha, who will turn 3 during the Games. Issajenko will race in the 100-m event in Seoul, where a win in the final on Sept. 25 would fall three days before her 30th birthday.

Johnson, meanwhile, will anchor Canada’s four-man 400-m relay team, ranked fourth in the world. Another athlete with a clear shot at the medals is Vancouver steeplechaser Graeme Fell. Fell, 29, a sales and marketing consultant for Japanese sportswear manufacturer Mizuno, ranks fifth in the world in the gruelling 3,000-m event, which includes 28 hurdles and a water hazard.

The hazards facing the equestrian team are ones of time and distance before they even arrive. The valuable and temperamental show jumpers—including Big Ben, Ian Millar’s first-string mount, and at least 16 other horses— must endure a 20-hour flight by cargo plane from Canada to Seoul. Still, the four-rider team led by Millar is favored for the gold. And Millar himself is ranked No. 1 in the individual jumping event.

In the gymnasium, Canada’s chances rest on the broad shoulders of Toronto’s Curtis Hibbert. Hibbert, who turned 22 on Sept. 2, stunned the gymnastics world last October when he captured a silver medal on the high bar at the 1987 world championships. The York University student—whose other athletic passion is downhill skiing—was the only gymnast from a non-Communist country to win a medal at the event and the first black to win a medal at a world gymnastics championship. As for the Olympics, Hibbert said: “I am very competitive in the vault and the high bar. My high bar is up to the level of the Chinese, and the Soviets are not even close on the vault.”

The Soviets—as well as the East Germans, Koreans, Puerto Ricans and Americans—are among the tough opponents Canada’s boxers will likely

face. Kitchener, Ont., superheavyweight Lennox Lewis,

23, who left school to box full time after dropping out of Conestoga College, is the best prospect for a gold (page 53).

But at least two others have a chance at medals. In the 75-kg class, Toronto’s Egerton Marcus, 23, ranked fifth, will continue a family tradition. His uncle, Charles Amos, fought for Guyana at the 1968 Games. Light-flyweight Scott Olson, 20, of Edmonton, who enjoys hiking and fishing when not in the ring, is ranked ninth. Despite his diminutive five-foot, one-inch stature and 106-lb. weight, Olson says, “I was blessed with power, tenacity and a really good chin.”

Far from the ring’s hot lights, Olympic sailors will race in the cool open air at the Games’ sailing facility at Pusan, 160 km southeast of Seoul. Canadians won a silver and two bronze medals in 1984 and could win at least two at Pusan. Vancouver teammates, but not relatives, Bruce and Ross Macdonald sail a 6.9-m Star, a heavyweight class whose huge sails have graced all but one Olympic Games since 1932. Toronto sisters Gail and Karen Johnson, by contrast, will sail in a mere cockleshell when they pit their dinghy against the wind of Pusan Bay. The tiny 265-lb. boat barely outweighs the crew. Both pairs are rated third, and 1984 silver medallist in the six-metre Flying Dutchman class Frank McLaughlin of Toronto enters his event ranked fourth.

But the greatest threat to their medal hopes could prove to be Pusan Bay’s notoriously capricious weather. Strong winds combine with tide and river currents to create extremely harsh conditions in the heavily polluted harbor of the southeast coast. The sailing team enlisted the Canadian Hydrographic Survey—a branch of Transport Canada—to develop a computer model of Pusan Bay’s complex and powerful currents in hopes that it could provide the Canadian racers with a winning edge.

Several other Games venues could provide excitement for Canadians at home and abroad. On the tennis courts, 18-year-old Kelesi of Toronto

will battle other stars of the women’s tennis circuit (page 90) in the first Summer Olympics to admit professional athletes. But teammate Carling Bassett-Seguso, 20, who will celebrate her first wedding anniversary to U.S. tennis

Canada at the Summer Games SITE GOLD SILVER BRON~ RANK 1900 PARIS 1 0 1 14 1904 ST LOUIS 4 1 1 4 1908 LONDON 3 3 10 7 1912 STOCKHOLM 3 2 3 9 1920 ANTWERP 3 3 3 12 1924 PARIS 0 3 1 19 1928 AMSTERDAM 4 4 7 10 1932 LOS ANGELES 2 5 8 12 1936 BERLIN 1 3 5 17 1948 LONDON 0 1 2 25 1952 HELSINKI 1 2 0 21 1956 MELBOURNE 2 1 3 15 1960 ROME 0 1 0 35 1964 TOKYO 1 2 1 23 1968 MEXICO CITY 1 3 1 23 1972 MUNICH 0 2 3 27 1976 MONTREAL 0 5 6 27 1984 LOS ANGELES 10 18 16 6

pro Robert Seguso during the Games, is unlikely to pose a medal threat—after giving birth in March to son Holden, Bassett-Seguso is ranked 244th.

On the shooting range, blond Pointe-Claire, Que., native Sharon Bowes, who will turn 24 during the Games, could close in on the medals from her seventh-place ranking in the air rifle event. The third-year recreation student at the University of Waterloo finished fourth in Los Angeles. At the rowing lagoon, Oakville, Ont., canoeist Larry Cain will defend his 1984 gold 1 and silver medals in the 5009 m and 1,000-m events. The 25year-old bachelor and fulltime paddler anticipates stiff Eastern Bloc competition. His strategy: “Don’t expect anything. Just get from the start to the finish as fast as you can.”

The Canadian women’s basketball team had been third in the world. But with a 73-68 loss to Italy on June 10 in Malaysia, the team missed its chance for an Olympic berth. Said team member Beverley Smith, who left the squad after the shocking defeat: “We were looking too much to Seoul and the gold medal. We overlooked the qualifying tournament.” Canada’s sixth-ranked men’s team avoided that mistake, qualifying for Seoul with a determined 87-70 victory against Uruguay before a raucous, coin-throwing hometown crowd at Montevideo on May 31.

The road to Seoul has not been easy for any of the athletes, and the Games will demand everything from them, every ounce of muscle and each increment of hard-won improvement that they have earned over the past four years. With all of that, and with luck and determination, the team may just fulfil its ambitious goal of being the best-ever Canadian squad. For all of the 320 competitors wearing Canada’s colors in South Korea, personal pride and national honor are at stake in the challenge to do no less than their best, against the best in the world.

CHRIS WOOD with HEATHER KNEEN in Ottawa and HUGH WILSON in Montreal

HEATHER KNEEN

HUGH WILSON