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October 1, 2000

Caroline Brunet second in delayed Olympic kayaking final

By NEIL STEVENS -- Canadian Press SYDNEY -- A nightmare day ended in silver Sunday for Caroline Brunet.

 The world champion from Lac Beauport, Que., had to stew more than five hours when winds postponed the Olympic canoe-kayak schedule. When the competitors finally got to race in the 500-metre kayak final, she was upset by Italy's Josefa Idem Guerrini.

 Racing into a strong headwind, with waves banging against the bows of the boats, the Italian passed Brunet and held on to win in two minutes 13.8 seconds. Brunet, who led at the 250-metre mark, was a half-boat length behind at the finish.

 Katrin Borchert of Australia won bronze.

 "It was a nightmare from the moment I warmed up this morning on the course, before they announced the first delay," Brunet told CBC. "And there was about four or five delays.

 "I knew the wind would only get stronger."

 The silver was the second in as many Games for Brunet, who went on to finish fifth in the K-2 500 with Karen Furneaux of Waverley, N.S., in the last race of the day.

 "I'm not sure how many times we got ready to race," Furneaux said. "It's hard to race in those conditions when you don't know when you're going to go. Mentally to get up for that, five times on five separate occasions, it's really draining."

 The competitors had protested, asked that the races be delayed until Monday but were turned down, Brunet said.

 "I didn't think the conditions were fair," she said.

 "But then again everybody was in the same position that I was," she added. "And somehow it made it a fair process, because it was just terrible for everybody."

 Brunet started her first race five hours 10 minutes after originally scheduled. The water actually was worse when she raced than it had been when the first of three postponements was announced.

 Officials tried to start the finals after an initial three-hour delay, sending the men's K-1 paddlers to the starting line. But waves pushed by gusting 45-km/h winds caused the starting gates in lanes eight and nine to pop out of place. The men were sent back to the dock.

 Brunet had taken to the water to warm up for her K-1 race, second on the program, and she was forced to the dock as well.

 Maxime Boilard of Lac Beauport, who finished an impressive fourth in his C-1 500 race, said the many delays made it "one of the worst days of my life."

 "I was here at 7:15 this morning, getting ready for my race, then they told us we were going to go later," he told CBC. "I made my race preparations four times today, so (that meant) three times before my final race. These three preparations were more tiring than the race itself I'm sure."

 Boilard also said he would have sunk if the waves hadn't subsided during the second part of the race.

 "I feel bad for Caroline because I'm sure the entire paddling community knows that she's the fastest and these conditions made it harder for her to win," said Boilard.

 "So it's really sad, but I know she will get over this."

 The schedule was compressed so it could be completed in time for athletes and officials to get to the closing ceremonies on time. Brunet's K-1 race was moved to the front of the order so she'd have enough time to recover for her K-2 race with Furneaux. The K-2 was moved to the end of the program and Brunet was given permission to paddle directly back to the start after her K-1 race to hop into a boat with Furneaux instead of using a longer off-channel route.

 Brunet, 31, lined up for her first race of the day in a middle lane between Rita Koban of Hungary and Idem Guerrini. In the 1996 Olympic final of this event, Koban won gold, Brunet silver and Idem bronze.

 Brunet has been the dominant force in the K-1 500 since Atlanta, winning world titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Koban, 35, already with five Olympic medals in various canoe events, was looking to repeat as Olympic champion. but it was Idem Guerrini, 36, who was second to Brunet at the world championships last year in Milan, who would emerge victorious.

 Athletes had worried about winds on the course west of the city before the 27th Olympiad began.

 Some pre-Games practices had to be postponed because wind-whipped waters. There were no problems during the rowing regatta, which ended last weekend, and smooth water enabled canoe and kayak races to go off on time this week. Everything changed on the last day.

 Brunet, Canada's flag-bearer in the opening ceremonies 17 days ago, waited out of the sun in a white tent near the launching dock for her chance at Olympic gold.

 During one aborted attempted to start the races, Brunet was on the water warming up. When the starting gates in lanes eight and nine popped out of place, the program again was postponed and the paddlers returned to the docks.

 A crowd in excess of 10,000 had diminished to about 1,000 by the time the racing finally began. Five hours into the wait, 25 of them jumped into the water, swam across the course, and mounted the medals podium.

 Brunet would reach the podium, too, but not on the top platform she had worked towards since Atlanta.





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