SWIMNEWS ONLINE: April 1996 Magazine Articles

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Karin Helmstaedt

When Joanne Malar was 12 years old, she cracked open a Chinese fortune cookie. The small slip of paper inside read: Your name will be famous one day.

Now, at 20, she remembers that day with a smile as she gives her umpteenth interview of the meet at the Montreal Olympic Trials. Ever since last September, her phone has been ringing off the hook.

After all, being third in the world gets people's attention. From corporate sponsors to community organizations in her hometown of Hamilton, everybody wants a piece of Canada's brightest waterbaby. In addition to her swimming talent and achievements, her natural good looks and sunny disposition have them calling by the dozens.

Undisputed star of the sport. For larger 24k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

"It's an amazing feeling when people know who you are and want you," says Joanne, "and I love to do things for the community. But when everyone wants a little bit of you, it tires you out. In September and October I was just drained because I had been running around every day doing things other than swimming and I was going to school full time."

A long talk with her coach put things back into perspective. In an Olympic year, Joanne could not afford to spread herself too thin. That meant signing up with an agency (IGM) and cutting her public involvement down to a minimum so she could concentate on her training.

"I had to think of what's best for me because the reason people want you in the first place is because you're swimming well. If you don't swim well you're not going to have those opportunities. This year I learned to say no, but I love saying yes. Hopefully next year I can say yes more often."

Joanne's impressive list of sponsors includes Metropolitan Life and Kellogg's. "I'm going to be on the Special K box," she laughs. She is featured in a television ad for Salon Selectives and has recently signed with Speedo.

She enjoys the recognition and attention but admits that "it's a lot to deal with at the same time during such an emotional year."

So far she has managed it all successfully however, and her performance at the Olympic Trials in Montreal left no doubt as to her versatility and toughness. Joanne swam 5 out of 6 days and walked away with 4 gold medals and 5 potential events for the Olympics (200/400 IM, 200 fr, 200 bk, 4x200 FR). It's been a while since Canada had that kind of all-round talent.

She and coach Gaye Stratten have yet to decide on her final Olympic program. "We're going to really look at the schedule and see what's best for the IMs," she says. She swam fly and backstroke in Montreal because "the more options you have at the Olympics, the more you have to choose from. It's much better than not having a choice at all."

Joanne has come a long way since 1992, when she had only one event (400 IM) to swim in Barcelona. And she shows a great deal of maturity and intelligence in her approach to the Olympics. Whereas previous young Canadian stars have been built up as gold medal hopes before they knew what they were in for-the cases of Elaine Tanner and Allison Higson come to mind-Joanne has the realism and the faith in herself to temper all the outside pressure.

Lots to cheer about after the only record swim of the Trials. For larger 40k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

"I think people are understanding that it's a feat in itself to make the Olympics," she says. "A medal is my dream and everyone hopes I'll achieve that, but I think people understand that I'm going to give my best and that will be good enough."

"Instead of saying I'm going to get a medal I want to go out and give my 100 per cent, and that might be good enough to get a medal, it might not. But no matter what place I come it's not going to change how I've prepared and all the work I've put into it. If I come first or last I'll be proud of the past years of my life, and the people who care about me will feel the same way."

Joanne admits that she has been fortunate to have a winning support system-a great coach, a wonderful family, and a terrific team and training environment. They have allowed her to concentrate on and swim for the one who counts the most: "Me, myself, and I."

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