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