15 février 2006

Ski pole vaults Canucks to silver

Terry Jones
Edmonton Sun

Sara Renner owes Bjornar Haakensmoen one silver medal, one ski pole and one big hug. Sara Renner owes Bjornar Haakensmoen one silver medal, one ski pole and one big hug.

"She didn't give me my ski pole back,'' the Norwegian coach said jokingly yesterday, having handed Renner a replacement pole to help carry her and Beckie Scott to an Olympic silver medal for Canada in the women's team sprint in cross-country skiing.

"Ah, I don't want it back. I want her to keep it. It would be a good souvenir,'' he said.

"We have lots of ski poles. But tell her she owes me a great big hug.''

The Albertans won the first surprise medal at Turin for Canada, thanks to Haakensmoen, who watched Renner break her left ski pole during the sprint relay final as she passed his position on course.

The setback caused Scott and Renner to fall to fourth from first.

But with Renner using Haakensmoen's pole, combined with a massive move by Scott to haul in the lead pack again, it produced a pair of Olympic moments for the ages.

"Some countries don't give poles to their opposition. That is bull----,'' Haakensmoen said.

"Our policy in Norway is we should give poles or skis to everyone. We talked about it at our team meeting the night before. We are a country which believes in fair play. I like to be somebody of fair sportsmanship.''

The gesture likely cost his Norwegian skiers a medal as they finished in fourth place.

Haakensmoen deserves to be as big a hero in Canada as Renner and Scott. "I saw it happen,'' the Norwegian said. "It was almost crushing.''

Renner said that was one way to phrase it.

"It was like being in a canoe with no paddle," she said. "I was in shock. Then I looked up and the Norwegian coach is handing me his pole.

"I was told that 25 years ago a Swede broke a pole and a Norwegian coach wouldn't give him his pole and it became a moral issue after that,'' said Renner, 29, who is married to Canadian giant slalom skier Thomas Grandi.

"I'm told this will be the Norwegian coach's last Olympics, that he's retiring after this, so maybe this is a good way for him to go out."

Renner said that while it was a men's pole and a bit too long, it got the job done.

"I was able to make it back to Beckie without losing too much time,'' she said.

Scott, who had a cross-country bronze at Salt Lake City in 2002 upgraded to gold after two Russians lost their one-two placings after failing drug tests, said she would cherish the silver she attained with Renner, a close friend.

"This might be one of the last relays we ever do together,'' the native of Vermillion, Alta., said.

"To finish it with an Olympic medal ... I'm not going to say it was surreal ... we promised each other we wouldn't get too fruity at the end of this, but we have gone through the school of hard knocks together and this is something great we can enjoy together. We are a unique team.''

Scott and Renner have competed against each other and fed off each other throughout their careers. They recently hooked up as teammates for the sprint relay, which made its Olympic debut at Turin.

The race went down to the final few metres, with the Canadians finishing 0.6 seconds behind Anna Dahlberg and Lina Andersson of Sweden.

Renner, of Canmore, Alta., was in for another surprise two hours after the race, as she stood outside the venue waiting for Scott to come out of drug testing.

Hearing a noise, Renner looked around and exclaimed: "Oh, my god, that's my dad peeing behind a tree!''

Sepp Renner said that was better than messing his pants, which is what he felt like doing when he saw his daughter break the pole.

"That was incredible," he said. "It's the Olympics. I thought 'Oh, my god, she broke her bloody pole. She's in front at the Olympics and she's going to lose a medal because her bloody pole breaks!' ''

The question Renner and Scott may be asking themselves now is if the pole hadn't broken, might they have won gold ?

"I don't think we can say that for sure," Scott said. "Maybe the super-human effort I had to come up with to get back to the pack took away something extra I might have had left in my tank at the end.''

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