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September 20, 2000

Canada's medal dreams washed away

Sydney — Canada's inconsistent performance cost it a shot at one of the first medals awarded in women's water polo at the Olympic Games.

A 9-4 loss to Australia on Wednesday, coupled with Russia's 6-3 win over The Netherlands prevented Canada from advancing to the four-team medal round. Now the Canadian women (1-2-2) will battle for fifth place against Kazakhstan (0-5-0).

Canada, considered a medal threat in the six-team field coming into the tournament, played well for portions of games, but either had slow starts or poor finishes.

"It's just really unfortunate and it's a shame we weren't able to go farther and win a medal like we're capable of," said centre forward Sue Gardiner of Vancouver. "We've beaten every team here before. We really could have been there."

The pivotal game for Canada turned out to be its second. The Canadian defence opened up and allowed three goals in the last two minutes of an 8-8 tie with the U.S. — a team they beat twice in 1999 — and that ultimately cost them a berth in Saturday's semifinals.

"We started well and then we fell apart at the end with two minutes and 10 seconds left in the game," said captain Cora Campbell of Calgary.

Canada started the round robin 1-0-2 but lost its last two games, including Wednesday's 9-4 defeat at the hands of defending champion Australia, which Canada also beat last December at the Canada Cup in Montreal.

"There's really no reason why we're losing these games," said Gardiner. "It's a little something here or a little something there. They're all little things.

"I think it baffles all of us why we're in this situation. We're all sort of sitting back every day and thinking ‘What happened?"'

Canada had a quick turnaround on Wednesday, playing the first game of the day at 1 p.m. after playing a late game against the Netherlands the night before.

Coach Dan Berthelette felt the draw favoured the host country because Australia always seemed to have 28 or 29 hours of rest between their games.

Press information officer Russell McKinnon told Berthelette that was because the Aussies' schedule had to cater to prime-time television.

The Canadians' long faces after their loss to Australia showed they were uneasy about allowing their fate to be decided in a later match between two other teams.

If the Netherlands had beaten Russia, Canada would have advanced to the semifinals with a better point total. But Russia doubled the Dutch 6-3 and wiped out Canada's medal aspirations.

"Being in the top four, I didn't question it at all," said Gardiner. "I thought that we would dictate ourselves being there. I didn't think we'd have to wait for a (another) game to find out who wins."

The lopsided score against the Aussies, who dominated Canada to the delight of the home-town crowd at the Ryde Aquatic Leisure Centre, put Canada at a disadvantage in goal differential had Russia and the Netherlands tied.

"I am just sad about it," said Berthelette. "These girls put 27 months together to work very hard. They are capable of playing much better than they did today."

The women's water polo team is a diverse group of French and English players from across Canada including a mother of three in Marie Claude Deslieres of Montreal, Mohawk Waneek Horn-Miller of Kahnawake, Que., who posed nude for the cover of Time magazine, and Calgary's Campbell, considered one of the best players in the world.

"Everyone's goal was to come to the Olympics and perform well and to win a medal," said Gardiner. "You put aside the language difference and where you come and come together for the goal."

Australia, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Russia advance to Saturday's semifinals.

Canada will play for fifth place on Saturday against Kazakhstan.


Reprinted with permission

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