Friday, August 15, 2008

Coxswain with artificial voice not allowed to compete at Games

Garry Montorsi's dream of competing in the Beijing Games as a coxswain for the Canadian men's heavy weight eight rowing team came to an end yesterday morning.

The Olympic Governing Body (OGB) ruled that the device Montorsi uses to speak, because of years of heavy smoking, gives him an unfair advantage over other coxswains competing in the games.

"It's not fair to the other athletes here in Beijing," said Yuri Fetisov, an OGB official. "With the device, his voice is very crisp and clear and somewhat louder."

Some coxswains agreed with the OGB decision. "During practice yesterday I heard Montorsi yelling 'stroke, stroke.' It was just so damn clear and understandable," said Australia's men's heavy weight eight coxswain Clinton Thomas.

Montorsi, 22,was born with a rare smoking problem. "I smoked from the time I was 6 or 7. It was just a problem I was born with," said Montorsi. "I had a doctor's note to smoke in class and on the playground. But never really learned to smoke in the pool."

So intense is his habit that he often smoked on board the scull while shouting signals, using his electrical voice box, for the rowers when he first began in the sport. Montorsi attempted to hold the cigarette out to the side so secondhand smoke would not drift into the rower's faces.

"He had a device to help him speak but on the top of it was a hole to place a cigarette. So he could talk and smoke," said Hal Garren, his coach at Winnipeg State University in Manitoba, Canada.

Because of the heavy smoking, Montorsi lost his voice around the age of 12 and became a coxswain at the age of of 15. He admitted that it was difficult in the beginning, but later he learned to accept his new voice device.

"In middle school [my friends and I] would go to the supermarket and I would yell,'Clean up in aisle four.' Minutes later store employees would arrive at a clean aisle. We would all crack up. At baseball games I would yell, 'And now batting...'" said a smiling Montorsi.

The OGB realizes this was a difficult decision and has offered Montorsi and his family a ten-day all-expense-paid vacation to Hong Kong and Nanjing.

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