Athletes bound for Olympics

July 08, 2004, vol. 30, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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Winning medals and surpassing personal bests are on the minds of several SFU students and athletes preparing to compete for Canada at the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens in August.

Athletes with SFU ties will compete in wrestling, softball and track and field. In addition, SFU wrestling coach Dave McKay and softball coach Mike Renney are heading up their respective national teams.

McKay is taking a veritable powerhouse of wrestlers to Athens. “It's unprecedented in our sport to be heading to the Olympics with so many medal hopefuls,” he says. The national team includes four women who are competing in the games' first women's wrestling venue (none are from SFU, however SFU wrestler Carol Huynh will be an alternate), and two former world champions, including Montreal's Gia Sissaouri and Olympic gold medalist Daniel Igali from SFU. Former SFU competitor and 2002 Canadian national champion Neal Ewers is an alternate.

Igali's sights are on a repeat of his freestyle wrestling performance at the 2000 Sydney games. The criminology graduate student has nothing but a medal in mind. Over the past few years he has battled injuries and adjusted to a new weight class, from 69 kilos to 74. “I'm feeling good - a little tired but that's because we're really pushing it right now,” he says of his training.

“The plan is to push it hard and then bring it back a little. In all, I'm impressed with my progress and feel this will work.”

McKay has been on the Olympic road before, as a competitor at the games in 1984 and 1988, and as a coach in 2000. He is confident in Igali's abilities and his drive to hold his title. “The plan is to prepare effectively and take control over the things you can change,” he says. “You don't focus on winning. You focus on doing the right things. That puts you into the position where you might actually win.

“I know Daniel. He'll stay focused and calm. He knows what to do.”

On the baseball diamond, five athletes from SFU will add power to the national softball team. Rachel Schill, a sophomore outfielder, former Clan catcher Erin Cumpstone and shortstop Angela Lichty were named to Team Canada in January. They were joined in May by former Clan pitcher Auburn Sigurdson, who led the team to a national title last season, and outfielder Sasha Olson.

Under Renney, Canada finished eighth at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and fifth in 1996 in Atlanta. The team is currently ranked seventh in the world. They've since beaten the third and fourth place teams from Chinese Taipei and China and Renney believes they have a strong shot at bettering their Olympic record, possibly even bringing home a medal.

“If you take the number one team, the U.S., they can beat us nine times out of 10 but there's always that day when conditions can turn around,” he says optimistically, noting that at the Sydney Olympics, the team lost five games by one run.

Track star Emilie Mondor is expecting big things as she heads for her first Olympic experience. The 21-year-old former Clan middle distance runner now competes for Adidas International and is in the second year of a three-year commitment. She left the Clan in April 2003 as the two-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) cross-country champion and was the reigning 1,500 metre champion.

Mondor, who is nearing completion of a degree majoring in biology at SFU, placed 12th at the 2003 world championships, becoming the first Canadian woman runner to run the 5000 metres in under 15 minutes. This year she won the first Canadian medal, a bronze, at the world cross-country championships in March.

Mondor ran a personal best and placed second in the 1500 metre race at the Harry Jerome international meet in Vancouver on July 1. Mondor, who has qualified for the Olympics' 5000 metre race, says the result will boost her confidence as she focuses on the 1500 metre Olympic trials July 9-11. She then heads to Europe for a meet in Zurich before going to Athens.

“Making a top 10 would be a great achievement for any Canadian. I hope to get my personal best lower throughout the summer, so times are the key for me, and most important, reaching my deepest limits,” she says.

Triathlete Jill Savege is also gearing up for a medal run at the games. Savege, who graduated from SFU in 1998 with a bachelor of science degree, now lives in Penticton. She is confident after placing third in an international meet in South Korea in June.

SFU swimmer Kathleen Stoody is another hopeful. She swims in her Olympic trials July 8-11, vying for one remaining spot on the team.

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