'Track' stars steal limelight

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 1997, 12:00am

Formula 1 driver Jacques Villeneuve and sprinter Donovan Bailey stole the headlines in Canadian sport this past year while the struggling Canadian Football League (CFL) has survived to play another season.

Montreal's Villeneuve picked up where he left off after an impressive debut on the F1 circuit last season. Driving for the Williams team, he has won three of the first seven of this season's races with victories in Brazil, Argentina and Spain.

Villeneuve, however, trails Michael Schumacher by 14 points in the World Drivers' Championship.

On another type of track, Bailey reinforced his claim to being the 'fastest man in the world' when the Olympic 100 metres champion beat 200 metres champion Michael Johnson in their 150-metre showdown in Toronto last month.

In grid-iron, the struggling CFL has been thrown a lifeline with the National Football League (NFL) coming to the aid of the cash-starved league.

The NFL will pump US$3 million into the league over five years and receive the rights to sign CFL players immediately after the Canadian season ends.

This season the league will play with eight teams, the Ottawa Roughriders having folded after 120 years.

In ice hockey, only three of the six Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs and just the Edmonton Oilers advanced past the first round.

The Ottawa Senators came of age, reaching the post-season for the first time in six years, a year in which the Detroit Redwings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

Canada's national teams fared better with the junior squad winning its fifth straight World Junior Ice Hockey Championship when beating the US 2-0. Canada beat Sweden to win the Ice Hockey World Championships in Finland in May.

Both NBA Canadian basketball squads did not enjoy the best of times in their sophomore seasons. The Toronto Raptors improved by nine games and recorded wins over league champions the Chicago Bulls and finalists Utah Jazz.

The Vancouver Grizzlies finished with a 14-68 record but should improve drastically next season with Bryant Reeves and Shareef Abdur-Rahim beginning to show leadership form.

The Montreal Expos are one of the best young baseball squads in the National League and remain 6.5 games off the pace in the NL East led by the power pitching trio of Pedro Martinez, Carlos Perez and Jeff Juden.

In golf, Canadian women continue to outshine their male counterparts with seven players plying their trade on the Ladies' Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour.

Gail Graham has established herself as the country's top player. The Kelowna native won the Alpine Australian Ladies' Masters in March for a US$97,500 pay day. She is 13th on the LPGA money list with $199,567.

Dawn Coe-Jones, Canada's premier player and 25th on the LPGA career money list ($2 million), is returning to form having made 14 consecutive cuts this year in winning $122,461.