THE LILLEHAMMER GAMES

Wild and woolly

JAMES DEACON March 7 1994
THE LILLEHAMMER GAMES

Wild and woolly

JAMES DEACON March 7 1994

Wild and woolly

THE LILLEHAMMER GAMES

JAMES DEACON

Canada’s short-track speed skaters are not choir girls and boys. Their sport demands that they be tough and, to win, decidedly daring. Marc Gagnon, the reigning men’s overall world champion, skates like a raptor in flight, uncatchable when ahead. Nathalie Lambert, the women’s world champion, commands the track with proprietary zeal. But speed and cunning were not always enough last week. Race after race went to the skater who survived the jostling and elbowing that often went without penalty. The result was, at times, a shoddy mess of accusations and tears that left the Canadians frustrated—despite their three medals—and left the sport in disrepute. “I’m afraid they are going to kick short track right out of the Olympics,” said Louis Grenier, Canadian team leader. “Everyone loved short track at Albertville, but here, you can’t love this.”

Grenier may not have to worry. But the Olympic ideal of sportsmanship does take a beating when a silver medallist stalks off the podium and throws her bouquet back on the ice. That’s what China’s Zhang Yanmei did after the women’s 500-m race, claiming that American gold medallist Cathy Turner had employed dirty tactics. Lambert, a 30-year-old Montrealer, hugged Zhang in skaters’ soli-

Canadians win three medals in a hotly disputed short-track competition

darity. “This is really a bad showing for our sport,” said Lambert, who survived the mayhem to skate off with two silver medals at the Games. “It does not have to be like this.”

The first-night racing began in rollicking style, with the skaters warming up to the Rolling Stones on the public address system and exuberant Korean fans filling the Hamar arena with the sound of drums, atonal bells and rattles. But the biggest commotion was on the ice. First, 18-year-old Gagnon went

down in a semifinal. Next to fall was 21-yearold Frédéric Blackburn, who had won two silvers at Albertville. Then, in the final, 22year-old Derrick Campbell of Cambridge, Ont., crashed to the boards; he carried on but was later disqualified for failing to skate the required number of laps. Happily for the Canadians, his medal went to Gagnon, who had won the consolation round.

Meanwhile, after falling in the final of the women’s 3,000-m relay, 21-year-old Christine

Boudrias of Montreal wept openly. The team recovered to finish third—or so it seemed. Just before the medal ceremony, the second-place Chinese were disqualified for obstruction—giving the Canadian team a silver.

The real fireworks came on the second night of racing. At the centre of the action was Turner, who had won the 500-m gold at Albertville after clashing skates with the favorite, Sylvie Daigle of Sherbrooke, Que., knocking her out of contention. A onetime lounge singer, Turner returned to competitive skating last year after she was fired from the Ice Capades. Last week, it was the 1994 favorite, Lambert, who fell after crossing blades with Turner. In another heat, fellow Canadian Isabelle Charest, 23, collided with Turner and was disqualified. The most glaring incident, however, came in the 500-m final when Turner’s hand appeared to strike the right foot of race leader Zhang. At a postrace press conference, Zhang was asked if she agreed with Lambert’s assertion that Turner was the sport’s dirtiest skater. ‘Yes,” Zhang replied in vehement if broken English. “Absolutely.” With that, Turner walked out of the room, but returned to insist that she was not a dirty skater, just an aggressive one. “The Canadian girls are making a big fuss because they didn’t win anything,” she said.

International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch asked for a report on the incidents, and short-track officials talked about using TV replays to avoid future chaos. By the final day, the referees seemed to have gotten the message. In the 1,000-m event, Turner was disqualified for an infraction that, in Lambert’s view, was less severe than her offences earlier in the week. Lambert went on to win a silver medal in the final, one-tenth of a second behind gold medallist Chun Lee-Kyung of South Korea. “She won fair and square,” Lambert said, “and I have a lot of respect for her.” For Lambert, the important thing was that the purely competitive qualities of the sport had finally shone through. “It was a great night of short-track racing,” she said, “and I hope this is what people remember.”

JAMES DEACON in Hamar