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The best (?) is yet to come

Top Canadian medal threats still waiting for shot

But win or lose, it's public's apathy that hurts the most


ATHENS—So, you're a little worried about the Canadian Olympic team, concerned that the relatively slow start is a harbinger of misery to come.

Well, there's good news and bad news.

The good? Not a single Canadian athlete considered a strong medal threat has competed yet in the final of his or her specialty at these Games. That means it's way too early for hand-wringing and doomsday prophesies.

No one listed in the Star's top 10 medal hopes before the Olympics, or picked by Sports Illustrated to reach the podium for Canada, has yet had their shot.

Some of those still to come include world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien of Pickering; divers Alexandre Despatie and Emilie Heymans, the defending world 10-metre platform champions; defending Olympic triathlon champion Simon Whitfield; two-time Olympic kayaking silver medallist Caroline Brunet; and former world wrestling champion Gia Sissaouri.

You're going to have to be patient, though. The next medal might not come until Friday when world trampoline champion Karen Cockburn does her gravity-defying act and World Cup white water kayaking champ David Ford tries to overcome the ghosts of a disastrous performance in Sydney.

After that, it has the potential to get really good for a while.

The men's world-champion rowing four races in its final Saturday, followed the next day by the men's world champion eights plus two other crews with medal potential, the men's lightweight four and women's lightweight double.

Also competing for medals Sunday are Heymans and worlds double bronze medallist Kyle Shewfelt in the men's floor exercise. Felicien opens with the first two rounds of the women's 100-metre hurdles that day as well.

It's too much to expect hardware from flagbearer Nicolas Gill tomorrow, despite his status as a two-time Olympic medallist. He's coming off reconstructive knee surgery and doesn't have the mileage. Plus, he's got a tough draw. If he doesn't reach the podium, it's not another reason for Canadians to agonize — but many will and much of the media will report it as another failure.

The bad news is there are no guarantees. What's considered a disappointing situation by many right now could become downright depressing.

But it will be no huge surprise if the Games unfold that way. Why should Athens be different than Sydney when Canadians still don't treat amateur sport seriously?

You quickly come to a realization at an event like this that Canada has no business considering itself a sporting nation. Not even close. We're a hockey nation. Period.

You really notice it as a journalist when you walk into the media room at the cycling road race and realize most of the reporters cover the sport full-time. Ditto for track and field, rowing, table tennis ... the list goes on.You can't say the same about any of these sports in Canada, except baseball. Canadian media parachute in journalists to the Olympics who mostly don't have a clue about the sports they're covering. It doesn't matter, though, because their readership doesn't seem to care, except once very four years.

"The public has no idea," said Canadian water polo coach Pat Oaten. "We have athletes like Nicolas Gill, who has won how many medals? And we have athletes who are top five in the world and it doesn't seem like the Canadian public cares. It's so frustrating. I don't get it.

"They only care about one sport. Every other country here, even a third-world country like Kazakhstan, is trying to address things with all their sports."

Felicien, one of the fortunate few among Canadian athletes in terms of attention and income because of her great success in the past year, said the lack of appreciation exacts a toll on her peers.

"As an athlete, I know how hard we train for this," she said yesterday. "I think people see us on TV and they kind of think, `Oh, they're at the Olympics. Yeah.' But this has been something we've toiled so hard for. I think to most athletes it's probably crushing when the public doesn't really appreciate your accomplishments.

"It's not only about medals. People need to understand that. There's so many personal achievements, so many great stories. Someone might be sixth, but to them that might be a big breakthrough."

The frustrations are real and legitimate, but they're nothing new.

Some officials and athletes fear that if the top medal hopes deliver, the problems in Canadian sport will be glossed over. The sobering thing is that either way, it's hard to be optimistic about seeing any real and positive change.

Once the rush of these Games has dissipated, the apathy will once again be overwhelming.

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quote:Originally posted by Free kick

ATHENS—So, you're a little worried about the Canadian Olympic team, concerned that the relatively slow start is a harbinger of misery to come.

Yes, once Canada wins a medal in the trampoline there will be no misery nationwide until well into autumn. Everyone will be joyous. *eyeroll*

(do these journalist ever proof-read their material?)

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