THE WINTER GAMES

'HELL AND THEN HEAVEN'

ANDREW PHILLIPS March 2 1992
THE WINTER GAMES

'HELL AND THEN HEAVEN'

ANDREW PHILLIPS March 2 1992

'HELL AND THEN HEAVEN'

Sylvie Daigle tasted both the lows and highs of the Olympics last week. On Tuesday, she was eliminated from competition in her best event, the 500-m short-track speed skating race. In a preliminary heat, an American competitor inadvertently kicked her skate, bending the blade, with the resulting third-place finish costing her a place in Saturday’s final. But on Thursday, she finally won Olympic gold when she anchored a Canadian victory in a 3,000-m relay race—setting a world record. “It was hell and then heaven, two different worlds,” she said later, her gold medal still hanging around her neck and her face seemingly frozen in a grin of delight. “I’m sore from smiling, but'it’s a great kind of soreness.” The team’s victory—combined with a surprise silver-medal performance by Quebecer Frédéric Blackburn in the men’s 1,000-m race and another silver in the men’s 5,000-m relay—confirmed Canada’s strength in the upstart sport of short-track skating.

A full medal event for the first time at the Albertville Winter Games, short-track is still struggling for respectability. Conjuring up images of kids racing in backyard rinks, skaters chase one another in tight packs around an oval track to the delight of foot-stomping fans—but to the

disdain of sp~skating punsts who prefer the cool mtensity of long track racing. Quebecers were among the first to take up short-track, and they were rewarded last week. Three members of the women's relay team are now Montrealers: Daigle herself, at 29 a five-time world champion; Nathalie Lambert, 28, the current champion; and 23-year-old Angela Cutrone. The fourth member is 20-year-old Annie Perreault, who lives in Sherbrooke. Blackburn, too, was evidence of Quebec's short-track strength. A 19-year-old highschool student from Chicoutimi, he sported a long ponytail and a dazed expression as he accepted his silver medal. "I didn't think I had a chance for a medal when I got here," said Blackburn, "but all the effort paid off." Two days later, Blackburn, along with team-

mates Michel Daignault, 25, and Sylvain Gagnon, 21, of Montreal and Mark Lackie, 24, of Saint John, N.B., won Canada's third short-track medal, finishing just four one-hundredths of a second behind the South Korean team.

For Daigle and Lambert, the victory came just in time. Lambert had already been thinking of retiring, and Daigle had delayed entering medical school. “I can’t compete and study at the same time—I have to make a choice now,” said Daigle. “Both me and Nathalie knew this was probably our last chance. Winning the gold is the perfect end to our dream.”

ANDREW PHILLIPS

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