OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Worlds apart: the two faces of modern Olympic man: Reuben Burgess: Canoeist and crane driver

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The Independent Online
THE Olympics are a vacation for Reuben Burgess - but this does not place him in the millionaire elite at what used to be the great amateur event. Instead it means that to compete in Barcelona the 25-year-old crane driver from Leicestershire has to use up his holidays.

So who better personifies the Olympic spirit, the canoeist from Barrow-upon-Soar or Michael Jordan? In this at least, no contest. Burgess devotes most of his leisure time and money to the golden goal: getting to the Games.

He will paddle with James Block of Nottingham in the 1,000m two-man kayak, beginning with the heats on Monday week. 'I've never really sat down to work out what my sport has cost me in time and money but when I march with the British team at the opening ceremony that's when I will know the hardships have been worthwhile,' Burgess said.

'If I came back from Barcelona with a medal, that would mean everything to me, though a more realistic objective is simply to make the final. Our training has been good and we've gone well enough to be quite optimistic. We'll be proud to be in Barcelona but on the other hand we won't be there for our health.'

Burgess will return with precious few of his 25 days' annual leave stored up - they have been retained only by taking weeks of unpaid leave, seven already this year, granted by an understanding employer, an electrical engineering firm in Loughborough. By then he will need the break.

'To reach Olympic standard requires a lot of time and effort, constantly rushing straight from work to the gym or the water, but unless someone asks you it's not something you ever think about. It's a routine, as much as going to work. I don't have to do it, I don't have to go to the Olympics, but it's been my ultimate ambition for years.'

Burgess and Block have reached the 3min 24sec Olympic qualifying standard many times; the real trick was to finish in the top half - they were 14th out of 30 - in the world K2 1,000m championship in Paris last year. British champions in 1989, they were back in sixth place at Holme Pierrepont this year when conditions were so bad that racing was abandoned immediately afterwards.

Burgess's interest in canoeing was sparked by a work colleague who introduced him to Nottingham Kayak Club in 1982. By 1988 he was in the four-man kayak team who were one place off qualification in the first-round repechage at the Seoul Games.

In the meantime any sacrifice appears to have been worthwhile. He took the whole of March off work for a month's training camp in Florida - travel and accommodation found by the British Canoe Union, but not subsistence for the lost earnings. Even so, there is not a trace of envy when Burgess compares his lot with that of those for whom 'Faster, Higher, Stronger' equates with earning-power as much as sporting prowess.

'We have different lifestyles which affect the way we think as well as perform,' Burgess said. 'I thought some attitudes were bad in Seoul, particularly the tennis players, and I imagine it will be a bit worse this time, but if the basketball players imagine it's easy that's their problem and they'd be missing out on something special.

'When it comes down to it, these guys are making so much money that they don't need to go to Barcelona; they're not driven in the same way as someone like me. Perhaps if I was a British basketball player I'd be furious but a canoeist isn't really comparing like with like. We're talking about different types of people altogether.'

(Photograph omitted)