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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Opening gala secondary

Many Canadian athletes focus on competition, skip ceremonies

Posted: 07/27/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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LONDON -- Canadian swimming star Mark Tewksbury watched the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics from the cafeteria of the athletes' village.

Tewksbury, who won gold at those Games in the 100-metre backstroke, was hoping to get a leg up on the competition by saving his legs from what he knew would be a long, physically taxing night.

"I got to the cafeteria and my main competitors were all there watching on TV too," said Tewksbury, Canada's chef de mission at the London Games. "But it was OK. I won it by six-one-hundredths, so who knows? That might have been the six-hundredths I would have lost."

Many of Canada's athletes are skipping today's opening ceremonies, some because they're competing the next day, others because they're housed in locations that are too far from the stadium.

"Some people really get lifted by it and some people think the physical drain is too much," Tewksbury said. "It's a personal choice."

"The whole point of the Olympics is performance. That's the memory you want to take for the rest of your life, and you've still got the closing (ceremonies). The closing is there, and it's really the athletes' ceremony. It's awful to walk in an opening and regret it because it impacted your performance."

The ceremonies at Olympic Stadium, directed by Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, are to begin at 9 p.m. local time and end at midnight. Most of the athletes can walk back to their housing adjacent to Olympic Park, but it still puts them back at the village as late as 12:30 a.m.

Triathlon athlete Simon Whitfield of Victoria will lead Canada into the ceremony as the team's flag-bearer. They are expected to leave the village at 9 p.m. and enter Olympic Stadium at 10:15.

Canada's swim team won't march in the ceremonies, meaning freestyler Brent Hayden will be three-for-three in giving the Olympic opening ceremonies a pass.

"It's always kind of team policy that if you're competing within the first few days, you tend to skip just because you're not going to get to bed at a reasonable hour," Hayden said. "Standing up for hours on end, tiring your legs out is not necessarily the best thing to do before a competition."

Hayden, noting he marched in behind Chinese basketball star Yao Ming at the closing ceremonies in Athens, said the team will watch the ceremonies on TV at the village and will be there "spiritually and emotionally with the rest of the team."

Several thousand athletes from 204 countries will take part in the ceremonies. The International Olympic Committee has pressed London organizers to make sure the show doesn't run late so that athletes can get to bed at a reasonable hour. There are medal events Saturday in archery, fencing, cycling, judo, shooting, swimming, and weightlifting.

Canada's rowing team will hold its own opening celebration, with the athletes dressed in their ceremony outfits, at its hotel near the rowing venue. Rowing begins Saturday, with the first boats to push off the start line at 9:30 a.m.

"There's no performance reason why we would (march)," said Peter Cookson, the high-performance director for Rowing Canada. "In fact, that could be a real detriment to performance. So the team made a decision a long time ago that we would not go to the opening ceremonies."

Marie-Andree Lessard of Ville LaSalle, Que., and beach volleyball partner Annie Martin of Sherbrooke, Que., open play Sunday against Britain, but plan to march.

"We're going to go and be happy," said Lessard. "There is an opportunity to take the turn and then get out," she said, noting athletes do not have to stay for the whole affair and can leave after doing a lap of the stadium. Martin missed the ceremonies four years ago in Athens because she played the next day.

Canada will field its second-largest track and field team ever, with 45 athletes, but just four will march in the opening ceremonies: Melissa Bishop and Jessica Smith (800 metres), Rachel Seaman (20-kilometre race walk), and Dylan Wykes (marathon).

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 27, 2012 C2

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