1997 Canadian Triathlon Champion, Sharon Donnelly
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|James Christie Story in the Globe and Mail May 21, 1998|
Summertime and the living is easy
DOWN TIME FOR ATHLETES / Between Olympic Games
is a time to make moves,
make changes and make money.
By James Christie
The Globe and Mail
All material copyright Thomson Canada Limited
All rights reserved.
FOR many of Canada's summer sport athletes -- the ones we used to call amateurs -- this is the down year of the four-year Olympic cycle. They're midway between the Centennial Olympic Games of Atlanta and the Millennium Games of Sydney in 2000.
Track and field does not have a world championship this season. Swimming's world championships were held in the Australian summer at Perth, back in January. Canada didn't qualify for the World Cup of soccer and the Commonwealth Games aren't until September.
That makes this a year to make a move, make changes and make money. Sprint star Donovan Bailey changed coaches, cashing in Dan Pfaff of Austin, Tex., for Loren Seagrave in Atlanta.
Swimmer Joanne Malar ended a lifelong association with Gaye Stratten at Hamilton's McMaster University to go to the National Sport Centre at the University of Calgary campus. Meanwhile, back stroker Mark Versfeld pulled up stakes from Calgary and transplanted himself in Vancouver, looking for better results from coach Tom Johnson and the Commonwealth Centre for Sport Development programs.
It's a year when summer sport becomes the equivalent of a summer job for many athletes, and they crisscross the globe to get prize money from events such as triathlons or appearance fees, such as the $50,000-plus (U.S.) that Bailey can command as an Olympic champion and world-record holder.
Normally, without the focus of a high-profile world championship or Olympics Games during the summer months, this would be a time when Canadians lose track of the federally supported warriors. But technology is changing that. The Internet has made it possible to track down athletes and their results and even some of their personal reactions on interactive sites.
All of Canada's various sport federations -- and most of the international federations -- can be found with a few minutes of searching on the Internet.
Many of Canada's top athletes have their own web pages on the Net and respond to E-mail inquiries from fans and supporters. Some get into chat-room keyboard conversations, while others provide pictures and real audio interview excerpts to bring faraway events to those at home.
In the case of Olympic silver-medal mountain biker Alison Sydor of Vancouver, the Net actually served as a medium for an all-points bulletin when her locked-up competition bike was stolen, April 9 when she popped into a store for five minutes.
The machine was irreplaceable, with one-of-a-kind custom-made parts, Sydor said. "It's probably unrealistic to expect to ever see my bike again, but I do have some glimmer of hope that if the thief understands the magnitude of how important this bike was to my pursuit of my sport and livelihood, they might return it to me," Sydor wrote. Two days later, a man who'd seen the bulletin on a Canadian Cyclist site, made arrangements to return the hot bike, bought by a friend in a bar, to Sydor's father. Sydor has used the bike since that time to ride to the top of the World Cup cross-country standing.
Sydor was one of the earliest Canadian athletes to get exposure on the Net. After the 1996 Olympics, when she went to Hawaii, one site http://www.mountainzone.com featured Sydor in a real audio broadcast being interviewed by actor and announcer Peter Graves following a World Cup win at Honolulu.
Information on Bailey appears on several sites, but the unofficial ones have been disappearing, leaving the official www.donovanbailey.com to give updates, news reports on the sprint world as interpreted by Bailey's spin doctors -- U.S. rival Michael Johnson never seems to come off very well -- appearances, racers schedules and answers to frequently asked questions. There are other Bailey sites operated by companies from whom he gets endorsement cheques, such as the sporting equipment giant Adidas.
One of the busiest interactive athlete sites belongs to Ottawa triathlete Sharon Donnelly , (SharonDonnelly.com) who leaves posted the questions from would-be triathletes and her very practical answers. A neophyte might learn the hard way about blisters during a triathlon, which involves an open-water swim, a bicycle road race and a distance run.
By the time an athlete gets to the running phase, feet are wet with perspiration, ready to be rubbed raw by a running shoe or the slipping of a sock against the skin. Donnelly shares this wisdom: That she runs without socks and prepares her shoes in advance by greasing the toe box and heel with petroleum jelly and installing elastic material in place of laces so the shoes are easy to slide into. They don't chafe and don't have to be tightened or loosened during the run, saving the athlete time.
Ten to watch
Canadian athletes to watch in the summer of 1998:
1. Donovan Bailey, track. The 100-metre champion of the Olympics and world record holder is into his last big-money summer season, racing for appearance fees of $50,000 to $80,000. There's no world championship on the schedule and he's not likely to attend the Commonwealth Games because of a schedule conflict with the World Cup. Bailey said he's still set back by an October car crash and has run no faster than 10.07 seconds this year, well off his world record of 9.84. U.S. sprinter Maurice Greene, who dethroned Bailey as world champion last summer, will trash talk with Bailey all the way to a showdown at the Goodwill Games in New York in August. But by that time, the season sprint leader may be Trinidad's Ato Boldon and Namibia's Frankie Fredericks.
2. Alison Sydor, mountain bike. How's this for Canadian gutsiness. At a World Cup race last week in Plymouth, England, Alison Sydor's chain slipped off the gear near the finish. The Olympic silver medalist looked over her shoulder and saw that the pack was closing in. Flu stricken and drained by the end of the race, Sydor nevertheless hauled the bike up on her shoulders and carried the vehicle that was supposed to be carrying her for the final 100 metres, running to save a bronze medal. Midway through the season, she leads the World Cup standing. The consistent Sydor won her season-opening cross-country race in Napa, Calif., at the end of March and has since finished second in Portugal, fourth in Hungary, fifth in Germany and third in England.
3. Jonathon Power, squash. Known as a master of deception on the enclosed court, Power, 23, threatened to vault to the top rank of international squash last season. His year included four big tournament wins, an upset of No. 1 Jansher Khan in the Qatar Open. Power is ranked No. 3 in the world for this season, behind Khan and Scotland's Peter Nicol, but he's hampered by a bad ankle, which he twisted in a pickup basketball game in January. He had to miss the Super Series final for the top eight men in the world and pulled out of the second round of the British Open in April. So far the Commonwealth Games are still on his itinerary. Power led Canada to the world team final last year in Kuala Lumpur.
4. Sharon Donnelly , triathlon. Reigning Canadian champ in an Olympic sport that's new on the list for Sydney in 2000. The Ottawa graduate of Royal Military College trained impressively in Australia in the spring, winning the Queensland Sprint triathlon April 6, placing ninth in the World Cup opener in Japan, then fifth in the second World Cup on the Sydney course. Donnelly, 30, was top North American in both World Cups and returned home to improve the 10-kilometre run portion of her triathlon by more than a minute (36 minutes 5 seconds), finishing fourth in the runners-only Nordion 10K in Ottawa.
5. Mark Versfeld, back-stroke swimmer. The 21-year-old of Fort McMurray, Alta., is carrying on the tradition of fellow Albertan Mark Tewksbury and was a double medalist at the World Aquatics Championships in Perth, Australia. He won a silver medal at 100 metres, then set a Canadian and Commonwealth record in taking the bronze medal over 200 metres. Strongly motivated after missing the 1996 Olympic team, Versfeld switched his training base from the national training centre in Calgary to one in Vancouver. He works with coach Tom Johnson and dropped some muscle bulk in favour of endurance.
6. Emma Robinson and Alison Korn, pairs rowing. Only a handful of Olympic survivors remain afloat. Robinson and Korn won last year's world pairs championship, then scrambled for seats in the women's eight to add a silver medal to the haul. They'd previously scored silver with the eights team at the Atlanta Olympics. One question: With Olympic double sculls gold medalist and former pairs world champion Marnie McBean back in camp, will coach Al Morrow rethink the makeup of his crews?
7. Jessica Deglau, butterfly swimmer Canada's reigning free style and butterfly champ at 200 metres, Deglau, 17, is the rising star of the women's team. She swam in two Olympic finals at Atlanta; won silver with the 4 x 200 relay and placed fourth in the 200 butterfly at the Pan Pacific meet in 1997; surpassed her Canadian record in the world championship 200 butterfly at Perth, finishing sixth in 2:11.26 behind Australian Olympic champion Susie O'Neill. She added a World Cup gold medal in the short-course pool in Paris.
8. Curtis Myden, individual medley swimmer. Calgary's old reliable won the 400-metre bronze at the worlds in Perth, to go with his Olympic double bronze performance at Atlanta. Myden, 24, then swam in seven World Cup short course events this season and placed fourth over all with two gold, six silver and one bronze. He's in for a Commonwealth Games showdown with two of the world's best in his disciplines: James Hickman of Britain, and Australia's brilliant Matthew Dunn. Fortunately, Holland's Marcel Wouda won't be on the blocks. Wouda, the 200-metre medley world champ, poses a particular problem because he stands 6-foot-8 and covers a phenomenal amount of water with each long stroke.
9. Caroline Brunet, kayak. Easily won the outstanding female athlete of 1997 at the Canadian Sport Awards for her three gold medals at the world championships in Dartmouth, N.S. An Olympic silver-medal winner at Atlanta, the 29-year-old from Lac Beauport, Que., said she finally figured what she did was important when a Quebec newspaper actually pulled a reporter off a hockey assignment to interview her. Her golds at 200, 500 and 1,000 metres constitute the best individual paddling performance ever by a woman at the world level.
10. Graham Hood, track. He's an easy guy to spot in a world class 1,500-metre race -- the guy who isn't Kenyan. Hood, 26, is a Winnipeg native who lives in Burlington, Ont. He set Canadian records last year in the 1,500 (3:33.94) and the mile (3:51.55) and was seventh in the world championship final at Athens. Through the winter, he's won 1,500-metre races in New Zealand and the Sydney Grand Prix, and the Waikiki Mile. The University of Arkansas grad will be pushed by his old Michigan college rival, Kevin Sullivan of Brantford, Ont., who is healthy again and ran a very good 3:56.08 indoor mile.
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