SPORTS

Revenge denied

A tough start for Beckie Scott has steeled her resolve—not a surprise, given her past

JONATHON GATEHOUSE February 27 2006
SPORTS

Revenge denied

A tough start for Beckie Scott has steeled her resolve—not a surprise, given her past

JONATHON GATEHOUSE February 27 2006

Revenge denied

A tough start for Beckie Scott has steeled her resolve—not a surprise, given her past

SPORTS

BY JONATHON GATEHOUSE • There are so many peaks and valleys in Beckie Scott’s life that you have to wonder if she might have been better suited to alpine skiing than crosscountry. First the long years spent toiling in the absolute, witness-protection-programlike obscurity that veils promising winter athletes in Canada. Then, the sudden burst of fame at the Salt Lake City Games, where she captured the country’s first-ever cross-country medal, a bronze in the 5-km sprint. A plunge from the heights when it became clear that the two Russians who had finished ahead of her had cheated. And the long, arduous climb through the technocrats at the International Olympic Committee to her rightful place at the top of the podium.

In the vision that has powered Scott since 2002, Turin was to be the site of her ultimate

revenge. The clean skier who had cast light on the darkest corners of her sport finally basking in the golden glow. But, as has been the case with so many of her Canadian teammates, things have not exactly been going according to plan. Halfway through the Games,

Scott has one medal—a remarkable silver in the team pursuit along with Sara Renner—

but it is little solace. “I had myself set up for big things at this Olympics. And that was based a lot on how the season has gone so far,” Scott said after her latest setback, a finish-line disqualification in the 10-km classic on Thursday. Not that her illegal detour down the home stretch mattered—she was set to finish in 30th place. Scott blamed the skis and wax chosen by her technicians. “I had very slippery skis, very unfit for the course,” she said. “I was already 24 seconds off the pace at two kilometres. That’s huge, you can’t make that back. The way my skis were going I thought, if I can hang in here to finish, that would be good.” With two more, perhaps three, races to go— Scott will compete in the team relay and the 5-km sprint, and is considering the 30-km freestyle—the 31-year-old’s hunt for gold isn’t over. And given her past, it isn’t surprising that Turin’s disappointments seem to be steeling her resolve, not beating her down. Scott already demonstrated her epic willpower in the 15-km pursuit on Feb 14. When Renner snapped a pole at the top of a steep climb on the third lap, and the Canadian pair suddenly found themselves in fourth place, Scott scorched around the 1.5-km course, making up

the lost ground and retaking the overall lead. The effort she expended surely cost them the gold—Sweden’s Lina Andersson caught a flagging Scott at the end of the sixth and final lap— but without it, the Canadians would never have won silver. (Scott and Renner’s gutsy performance will probably end up being best remembered for the sportsmanship of Norwegian coach Bjornar Hakensmoen, who noticed Renner’s plight as his team passed her and gave her one of his own poles, allowing her to continue. The lesson: you can’t trust the poles, but you’ve got to love those Norwegians.)

Scott can’t be criticized for lack of focus at the Games, even if the results haven’t been what she wants. She and Renner have isolated themselves from their teammates and other athletes, renting an apartment near the course, complete with their own cook. And much to the chagrin of CBC and other broadcasters they have limited their media exposure to brief, post-race scrums, refusing to make the two-plushour trek down from the mountains to the studios in Turin. There were hugs and smiles after the pursuit silver, but by the time they hit the podium to collect their medals, the celebrating was over. The attitude is all business.

ROAD TO TURIN

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Renner, for whom expectations are smaller but who has arguably had the better Games— finishing eighth in the 10 km after leading for

much of race, and coming 16th in the 15-km pursuit—is still betting on her teammate to win gold. So is coach Dave Wood. “She’s not a quitter. This only drives her harder,” he said.

However, events off the course again seem to be conspiring to overshadow the athletes. News of the Turin Games’ first positive doping test surfaced at the end of last week, putting the fate of Olga Pyleva, a Russian who won silver in the women’s 15-km biathlon, in doubt. Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, is also raising questions about cross-country skiing. He accused 12 competitors who were found to have abnormally high hemoglobin levels just before the start of the Games, including Canada’s Sean Crooks, of taking banned substances (Crooks passed his second blood test and was cleared to compete). “Frankly, we think we are dealing with doping,” Pound told reporters. “It is too much of a coincidence to have 12 athletes with hugely high Hb levels just before the Games.”

Scott believes her sport is now cleaner, if not pure, because the cheaters are scared

After her sixth-place finish in the 15-km

pursuit, Scott said she believes her sport is now cleaner, if not pure, because the cheaters are at least scared. But even if the improbable was to occur again and everyone who has finished in front of her was proven to have cheated, it wouldn’t provide the satisfaction she is seeking in Turin. When she found her husband, former American Olympian Justin Wadsworth, at the finish of the 15-km on Feb. 12, she buried her head on his shoulder and cried long and hard. Only then was she able to paste on her famous smile and meet with the media. Whatever Canada’s expectations are, Beckie Scott’s are much, much higher. M jonathon.gatehouse@macleans. rogers. com