OLYMPICS COVER

DIFFERENTSTROKES

VICTORY IS A CURE-ALL FOR COUNTLESS ILLS, DROWNING OUT THE DOUBTING IN A BURST OF CHEERS AND TEARS

BOB LEVIN August 10 1992
OLYMPICS COVER

DIFFERENTSTROKES

VICTORY IS A CURE-ALL FOR COUNTLESS ILLS, DROWNING OUT THE DOUBTING IN A BURST OF CHEERS AND TEARS

BOB LEVIN August 10 1992

DIFFERENTSTROKES

OLYMPICS COVER

VICTORY IS A CURE-ALL FOR COUNTLESS ILLS, DROWNING OUT THE DOUBTING IN A BURST OF CHEERS AND TEARS

Canadians lead the world in the Olympic sport of hand-wringing. “Did we win any today?” they ask and shake their heads knowingly at the answer—nope, no medals. The predictable columns appear in newspapers: the country’s athletes are too satisfied with modest gains, too ready to accept defeat. Canadian officials do their own soulsearching: do they fund too many athletes who have no realistic shot at the podium, at the expense of those who do? On and on it goes. And then something happens. It is called winning, and it is a cure-all for countless üls, drowning out the doubting and the whining in a burst of cheers and tears.

Last week, Canadians did a lot of winning—in the pool, on the judo mat, on the cycling track, on the race-walking road. But the motherlode of medals lay north of Barcelona in the resort town of Banyoles, on a placid lake thick with mist in the morning and surrounded by wooded hills and fields awash in yellow sunflowers. In a single stunning weekend, Canadian rowers stroked to four golds and a bronze, running the country’s first-week medal count to 10—equalling the team’s total for the entire Seoul Games four years ago. And among those medallists was Silken Laumann, making an odds-defying, doctor-shocking recovery from a brutal leg injury and winning not only a bronze but a place in the hearts of Canadians—why else would people get up at 3 a.m. EDT to watch her race on TV? Thinking back to her accident 2lh months ago, even Laumann had to admit, “it seems pretty amazing” (page 38).

While Laumann was Canada’s comeback kid, Mark Tewksbury was its golden boy. The toothy 24-year-old Calgarian, whose bare-chested ad for blue jeans is plastered on bus stops across the country, grabbed a gold in the 100m backstroke, then added a bronze in the 4 x 100-m medley relay (page 40). But before Tewksbury’s heroics, a far less heralded athlete, 20-year-old Nicolas Gill of Montreal, won Canada’s first medal—a bronze in judo—on the Games’ fifth day. “Half an hour ago I was unknown,” the startled middleweight said, “and now there are 20 reporters in front of me.”

Pocket: Gill, who started judo when he was 6, took a year off from studying science at Montreal’s Ahuntsic College to prepare for the Games. He credits his medal to two weeks of intensive training at a judo club in Katsuura, Japan, last May. “In Canada, there are not many people at our calibre,” he said. “I had to go to Japan to get a medal.” While he plans to return to college in the fall, he said, he also has his sights set on the Atlanta Games in 1996—and another chance for Olympic gold. Meanwhile, he was so happy with his Barcelona bronze that he carried it around in his jeans pocket for the rest of the week.

Cyclist Curt Harnett also copped a bronze. The 27-yearold from Thunder Bay, Ont., a silver medallist in the onekilometre time trial at the Soviet-boycotted 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, pedalled in the cagey, nerve-testing individ-

ual sprint. ‘Tm sure in a week I’ll be very excited with this medal,” he said afterwards. “But right now, I’m just a little disappointed. I definitely thought I could get a gold.” His parents, his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s parents cheered him on in Barcelona. And back home in Thunder Bay, his 86-year-old grandmother, Emma Harnett, watched the race on TV and gushed: “I’m on cloud seven. I just went into goose pimples, my body went limp.”

She recalled that, as a child, Curt played with miniature cars and was fascinated by the turning wheels. He took up competitive cycling at 16—to get in shape for hockey. Now, he says, he is considering turning pro: there is a cycling event in Japan—a favorite of heavy bettors—in

which foreigners are allowed to compete for six weeks each year. “The guys are earning upwards of $100,000 in the six-week period,” said Harnett.

Guillaume Leblanc is unlikely to earn much money as a race-walker, but he did strike Olympic silver. The 30-yearold engineer from Rimouski, Que., competing in his third Olympics, manoeuvred his way through Barcelona’s steamy streets to become the first Canadian to win a racewalking medal in 80 years. “It’s great for Canada and for Quebec, too,” Leblanc said after parading around the Barcelona stadium waving a Canadian flag. While he looked ahead to the 50-km race on Aug. 7, his excited wife, Manon Boudreau, was answering a constantly ringing phone in Rimouski. The couple has a two-year-old daughter, AnneMarie, and Boudreau, 27, was expecting their second child later this month. The timing, she said, was no accident. “I had miscarried,” she explained, “and we wanted another baby before Anne-Marie got too much older. So we discussed whether to wait until after the Games or whether to

THE DOPING ISSUE LINGERS IN THE OLYMPIC SYSTEM LIKE A DRUG

have one now, and we decided to go ahead. Guillaume called me last night and said: ‘I hope if I do well that you won’t go ahead and have the baby without me.’ But I told him that if it happened, it would be a good sign for the baby.”

Hex signs seemed to hang over some athletes. Canadian Hank Lammens, a gold-medal-contending yachtsman in Finn class, squandered his winning finish in his second race on a technicality—he sailed without a life jacket in his boat—then false-started in his next race. “They say something like this gives you a stronger character,” said the 26-year-old native of Brockville, Ont. “I'm still waiting for that to happen.” A German diver, three-time European champion Albin Killat, was leading his competition when he suddenly slipped as he was leaving the springboard—and did a stomachcrunching belly flop that sank his medal chances.

Mouse: Other competitors performed almost flawlessly.

Krisztina Egerszegi, a 17year-old Hungarian backstroker known as Mouse, gobbled up three gold medals. Evgueni Sadovyi, a gangly 19-year-old swimmer for the Unified Team, equalled that achievement. The former Soviet Union, in fact, was the week’s big medal winner, followed by the United States, then Germany and China. And the Games’ top attention-grabber was unquestionably the U.S. basketball squad—not all of the attention flattering. “They’re almost bigger than the Olympic Games all by themselves,” said one spectator,

American physical-education teacher Edward Greene.

“It’s unfortunate.” So certain was the Dream Team of winning the Aug. 8 final that the only question was a sartorial one: would the six players under contract to Nike wear a Reebok warm-up suit to the medals ceremony, as required in Reebok’s contract with the U.S. Olympic Committee? Such are the raging debates of the moneytalks Olympic era.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, returning to the Olympic track after the steroid scandal in Seoul four years ago, also performed under the media microscope—much to the disgust of 25-year-old teammate Bruny Surin of Montreal. “I have the national record and I’m the fastest guy in the country, but all the attention goes to Johnson,” Surin complained. “That’s not fair.” It did not improve Surin's mood that, in the Canadian

team guidebook, someone else’s picture appears under his name. As it turned out, in the semifinal heat the 30-year-old Johnson stumbled coming out of the blocks and did not make the final; Surin did make it—and finished a close fourth in a race won by Britain’s Linford Christie. “I’m pleased,” said Surin. Meanwhile, the issue that Johnson has come to represent lingers in the Olympic system like a drug. Last week, three British competitors, weightlifters Andrew Saxton and Andrew Davies and sprinter Jason Livingston—known as Baby Ben for his resemblance to Johnson—were sent home for failing doping tests taken before they arrived in Spain. All three denied any wrongdoing. But there were rampant rumors—also denied—of steroid use by other competitors, most notably the strong and successful Chinese women swimmers.

And IOC vice-president Richard Pound of Montreal questioned the

validity of even the kind of random testing done in Canada—“unless a test is really, really random and really, really instant.” Give competitors more than 12 hours’ notice of a urine sample, he added, and “they can pee clean.” Pound advocates testing blood instead of urine. “I think the technology is finally catching up with this,” he said. “Once we get to the point of doing blood tests as opposed to whizzing in a bottle, we’ll have more reliable tests.”

Hopes: For viewers in Canada, the truest test of which network was American and which was Canadian lay in the commentators’ post-race reactions. True to their national stereotypes, NBC reporters rushed up to American silver medallists and said variations of, “You must be very disappointed with losing the race”—while CTV announcers often trumpeted Canadians’ fourth-place finishes. In fact, the Canadian public seemed to share that sense of low expectations: in a Gallup poll conducted before the Games, only 39 per cent of respondents said they thought Canada would beat its 10-medal total of Seoul. This week, however, the team should leave that number in the dust. The best hopes include Sylvie Fréchette in solo synchronized swimming and twins Penny and Vicky Vilagos in the synchronized duet; Michael Smith in the decathlon; Renn

Crichlow in the 500-m kayak race; and Ian Millar and his horse Big Ben in individual jumping. With the promise of a rising Olympic medal count, Canadians may just decide to skip the hand-wringing event altogether.

BOB LEVIN

CHRIS WOOD

MARY NEMETH

Toronto