Following Canadian Women to
Salt Lake City

Globe and Mail
February 20, 2002

Scott shows winning is not always main thing

Canadian skier misses another medal, but her accomplishments in the sport can't be overemphasized

SOLDIER HOLLOW, UTAH -- The first time around, she went out too fast, was first heading into the final turn, and then was boxed in and outmanoeuvred at the finish. It was a learning experience that unfortunately cost Beckie Scott any chance at her second Olympic medal here.

"I made the mistake of trying to lead early on," she said. "One of the things we've seen here is that it's very easy to catch a draft -- staying behind people and then making a move in the last corner. I got squeezed a bit and had to move to the outside lane, which I think was a little slower, and couldn't gain back the time from there."

The second time, she laid back, made her move in the final stretch, and crossed the line first. It was only the B final then, and it only put her into fifth place overall in the women's 1.5-kilometre cross-country skiing sprint.

But there's something to be said for wanting to win a race, no matter what the prize (remember, by way of contrast, the hockey men in Nagano, disdaining the chance to play hard for the bronze.) And there's also something to be said for finishing fifth, six, and third in a sport in which Canada has never registered a pulse at the Games before.

"Fifth place in the Olympics is not bad," Scott said.

No kidding. Had she won a second medal yesterday, you could have made a pretty strong case that Scott deserved to carry the Canadian flag at the closing ceremonies (though the omnipresent, telegenic figure skaters -- what were their names again? -- would certainly command a large body of support).

Even without that, you can nearly argue that Scott accomplished in Salt Lake City what 1,500-metre runner Kevin Sullivan accomplished in Sydney: all things considered, the best performance by a Canadian in the Games, though one that fell outside the limelight.

It's not quite a parallel, since every country in the world enters track and field's glamour distance event, while the field in cross-country skiing is obviously limited to cold-weather climes, and has traditionally been dominated by a handful of world powers. But considering that only one other North American had won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing before, the accomplishment grows in magnitude. Add Sarah Renner's ninth-place finish yesterday, and a team that, by their own admission, was the absolute worst at Nagano (not counting the various one-shot skiing Kenyans and Nepalese) has by any measure made tremendous strides.

"It was after Nagano that we made a conscious decision that we're not going to be like this again," Scott said. "We're going to be better.

"After Nagano, we were in a sink-or-swim situation," Renner said. "We realized that we had to keep funding for the sport, we had to keep kids in the sport, so we just went for it. And as a team we went for it. As a five-person women's team, we all gave it our best for four years. It paid off. It's a lesson in perseverance. It's a lesson in always believing in yourself and supporting each other. We're living proof of that."

This is the point where Canadian athletes usually start talking about money, about the perpetual funding shortfalls that dog those who decide to make a career in the traditionally amateur sports. The cross-country skiers would certainly love a bit more help from the public and private sector, and have certainly earned it, now that they're not finishing 45th anymore.

These results, though, aren't the product of anyone throwing great gobs of cash at the program.

The crusade against doping in the sport -- which Scott helped lead -- had something to do with levelling the playing field, giving the Canadians a better chance. The biggest factor, though, seems to be personal commitment -- which in Scott's case included moving to the United States to train, working with the Norwegian national team, and living in a tent that simulated high-altitude conditions. By the time she came to Utah after a breakthrough season on the world cup circuit, it felt like coming home.

"I think we came into these Games with the attitude that this is our course, this is our place," she said. "We spent so much time here training and racing. We know this environment so well that there was no reason for us to feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

"One thing Canadians have struggled for is confidence in cross-country skiing. Now I don't think there's much lack of confidence in this sport anymore. When we go to the line, we're ready to compete with the best in the world."

And the world seems to be fine with that. Wayne Gretzky may have decided that everyone hates us, everyone revels in our misery, but away from the hockey rink, out in the Wasatch Mountains, it sure doesn't feel like that.

"I've never had the kind of reaction from the international community like I did after the bronze medal," Scott said. "I think they were just so happy to see someone else, from another country, on the podium. . . .

"Today I came through the crowd and heard, 'Bravo Canada!' I've never heard that before."

reprinted with permission


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