Special Olympian hoping for more gold in his future
by PETER RUICCI, The Sault Star, Feb 21, 2001

Improving upon a double gold-medal-winning performance isn't easy. But that's the goal Sault Ste. Marie's Rick Francis has set for himself heading into his second appearance at the Special Olympics World Winter Games.

The 35-year-old cross-country skier leaves Feb. 28 for three days of training in Vancouver. From there it's on to Anchorage, Alaska, site of the 2001 Games, March 4-11.

The five-foot-11, 180-pounder competed in his first World Games in 1997 in Canmore, Alta. Besides the pair of golds he won there, Francis also recorded fourth and fifth-place finishes.

``I feel like I'm ready to go. I'm confident and I'm hoping to do better than last time,'' said Francis, who tried the sport briefly as a 14-year-old before getting serious about it in 1994.

``I'm not nervous. I just love the competition.''

Francis, who prefers the longer distances, will ski in the 5-kilometre and 7.5k freestyle events, the 10k classic and freestyle relay.

He's been on a demanding training regimen skiing an average of 100k per week.

Francis has also been weight training while monitoring his diet and sleep habits in hopes of achieving success against what he expects will be his main competition, hopefuls from Italy, Finland and Sweden.

Lorita Francis, Rick's mother, acts as the skier's monitoring coach, keeping track of everything he does in preparation for the Games.

Lorita and Ron Francis, Rick's father, will also travel to Anchorage to watch their son compete.

One of only four Ontario residents named to the 15-member Canadian Nordic Ski Team, Francis employed the classic style when he attended the 1997 Games in Canmore.

There that he saw many of the European skiers using the freestyle or skate ski style and was determined to do the same.

His coach locally, Helen Lindfors, taught Francis that style and the results have been impressive.

Besides his passion for the sport and his will to win, Francis says he's also looking forward to renewing friendships forged in the past with fellow competitors.

``I'm looking forward to seeing some of the people I met in Canmore,'' Francis said. ``We all get along really well.''

He's also hoping his hard work and dedication pays off, allowing him to successfully represent his city, province and country.

``Staying focused is the key,'' said Francis. ``I just want to do my best and have fun too.''