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Colbert? Olympian? Yes!

He taunts Canada, is on Team USA -- and the SI cover

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THREE Olympic storylines that grabbed our attention in the last week...

1. There he is in all his glory, seem­ingly screaming out at all us "syrup suckers" and "ice holes" in Canada from one of the most prestigious perches in athletics: the cover of Sports Illustrated.

He is Stephen Colbert, the comedic host of the hilarious The Colbert Report and he "graces" the Year in Sports Media issue of

SI that is currently on newstands, all decked out in his tights, skates, a tie, and sporting a fierce expression on his face with the head­line: "Stephen Colbert and his nation save the Olympics."

Colbert, you may be aware, stepped up to help the Yankee skaters after their largest financial backer -- DSB Bank -- declared bankruptcy in October. The fundraising ef­forts of Colbert Nation have raised $250,000 for the team.

The host has also taken some good-natured shots at us Canucks and the Vancouver Olym­pic organizers with the syrup-suckers and ice-holes barbs, complaining about limited access to the oval in Richmond. A month ago, the City of Richmond sent an official letter to Colbert offering him the chance to serve as an "official ombudsman to monitor the treat­ment of Americans during the Games."

Colbert accepted and will attend as a mem­ber of the U.S. Olympic Team.

"I have no idea what an ombudsman is," Colbert said on his show, "but as long as it requires no effort from me, I proudly accept."

2. Here's the latest on the Cindy Watch, tracking the Winnipegger and this country's most-decorated Olympian, Cindy Klassen. In last week's final World Cup event before the Olympics in Salt Lake City, Klassen finished 13th in her specialty, the 1,500 metres, with a time of 1:56.10.

That number is significant for a couple of reasons: 1. It's a full three-second improve­ment from her time in the Netherlands at the end of November (1:59.32) and continues to showcase her rapid recovery from two knee surgeries; and 2. The bad news is Klassen's time was well back of the winner, teammate Christine Nesbitt, who crossed the finish line at 1:52.77.

Klassen was the fourth-best Canadian after Nesbitt, Kristina Groves (second overall at 1:53.33) and fellow Winnipegger Brittany Schussler (seventh overall at 1:54.86).

3. Keep your eyes on how the Canadian women's hockey team handles its goaltend­ing. Veterans Kim St. Pierre and Charline Labonte figure to get most of the work in Vancouver, but a young star is pushing them: Edmonton's Shannon Szabados.

The 23-year-old kicked out 20 shots in a 6-2 win over the U.S. on Tuesday, led Canada to a 5-1 victory over the U.S. at last month's Four Nations Cup and made 52 saves in a win over the Calgary Canucks junior A team.

"I love her," Hayley Wickenheiser told the Calgary Herald's Vicki Hall. "She's the ultimate big-game player. She's a real profes­sional in the way she shows up to play every day. She's stolen some games for us. And I just like her attitude. She's steady, she's consistent, she's calm. I think the team really believes in her."

Szabados still dreams of playing pro in a men's league after the Olympics and she certainly has the resumé: In 2006-07, she was named the top goaltender in the Alberta Junior Hockey League after leading Fort Saskatchewan to a 45-11-0-4 record and has also played with the men's team at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton.

"I still have people telling me 'no,' " she said. "There's always going to be people when you're playing in a male-dominated sport -- or anything male-dominated -- who don't want you there and don't think you can do it.

"But I think I've changed a lot of minds over the years, so it doesn't bother me at all."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

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