Closeup/Sports

It’s all in the games

Including a few bucketsful of bad blood

Roy MacGregor July 24 1978
Closeup/Sports

It’s all in the games

Including a few bucketsful of bad blood

Roy MacGregor July 24 1978

It’s all in the games

Closeup/Sports

Including a few bucketsful of bad blood

Roy MacGregor

Frederick Lupel sat in Edmonton’s Grierson Armories, the room about him taut with pectorals, deltoids and latissimi dorsi. Formed more by his shirt than the other way around, the unathletic Lupel held little in common with the dozen nearly naked men in the room, all of them weight lifters in training for August’s Commonwealth Games. He was there primarily because his Alpha Self-Development Centre was the first listing in the Edmonton phone book under “Hypnotists,” and because some of the Canadian weight lifters were wondering if there might be untapped muscles in their minds. Lupel claimed there were and flexed. Such muscles were called “imagination”—a rather more polite word than “illusion.” He told them to sit, to relax and drift, and in his warm milkand-cookies voice he talked several of the weight lifters into believing their right wrists were being lifted by helium-filled balloons, leaving their right arms dangling in puppet waves over their heads. The illusion was set: what you are told to see and what is really there are not necessarily the same thing.

If this, then, is true, might it also follow that the Edmonton Games themselves— widely billed as the upbeat story of the year—are not precisely what they seem to be? They are not. Behind the smiling balance sheet—all facilities finished on time and below budget—there are discreetly hidden blemishes, small ones admittedly. Yet in what are traditionally called the “Friendly Games,” there lurk petty jealousies, freeze-outs, firings, huge compromises to interests with no amateur sport connection.

XI Commonwealth Games EDMONTON 1978

None of this implies that the athletic events themselves will be anything but a total success. Thanks to the Commonwealth leaders reaching last year’s Gleneagles Agreement against apartheid in sports, there will be no African nation boycott of these Games, something that crippled the track events in the Montreal Olympics. Of the 48 nations competing Canada, Australia and England are easily the best, but the most intriguing challenge is sure to come from the Turks and Caicos Islands, the seven-island Caribbean dependency that four years ago made a pitch to become a Canadian province. According to Obet Gardiner Jr., the islands’ sole national coach, their entire sports inventory before the games amounted to three old basketballs and a pair of used track shoes.

Equipment problems in Edmonton are of no concern—at least not until after the Games. One storm is sure to break over the city’s brand-new cycling velodrome, built for a mere $680,000 compared to the Olympic one in Montreal thatcost$78 million. For Rudy Frahm the Edmonton facility was supposed to be nothing short of a miracle. His 200-member Alberta Bicycle Association, with its paltry $5,000-a-year budget, needs a proper track, and Frahm claims he had a verbal agreement from the city that his cyclists would have full use of the velodrome for $200 a year. Recently, however, Rudy Frahm received a formal

contract from the city of Edmonton for around $35,000 a year. He refused to sign it. What he did sign was his resignation from the Alberta Bicycle Association.

It is easy, and probably appropriate, to say that any one of the Edmonton stories is small potatoes when compared to Montreal during the Olympics buildup. Edmonton, in total, will cost around $53.5 million, whereas Montreal ballooned to an estimated $1.4 billion. Building philosophies were as wide apart as the two cities, Montreal seeking a colorful and momentary grandeur at any cost and conservative, penny-pinching Alberta set upon mere functionalism, convinced always that the most exquisite coloring known to man is in the black. “We set the dollars we could afford and built to those dollars, rather than set a design and build to that design,” says Rick LeLacheur, Games Foundation vicepresident in charge of facilities.

Just as the costs are diminutive when compared to the Olympics, so too are most of the events. There are but 10 sports in the Commonwealth Games and three of them—lawn bowling, shooting and badminton—have far more cult appeal than general interest. Another four—cycling, gymnastics, weight lifting and wrestling— will be well below world-class levels, though each one should have its singular saving grace (Niagara Falls’ Gordon Singleton in cycling; Winnipeg’s Russ Prior, who should take his third consecutive

heavyweight title, in weight lifting; and the likelihood of Canada’s dominating the weak gymnastics and wrestling fields). For the rest of the world, attention will centre on the track and the pool—but also, to some extent, the boxing ring where two world amateur champions—Kenya’s Stephen Muchoki and Nigeria’s Andet Davidson—are expected to compete.

A common mistake is to view these Games as a prelude to the Olympics. Realistically, however, the Edmonton Games may well be a last hurrah for many of the likely winners. Both Russ Prior and Diane Jones-Konihowski are threatening retirement and Debbie Brill, Filbert Bayi, Don Quarrie, Raelene Boyle and Janet Nutter may all have seen their best days by 1980. But that doesn’t mean there will be no excitement, and the most promising areas to look for it are:

Track and field: This is the one area that is sure at least to begin well for Canada, as Diane Jones-Konihowski will almost certainly walk away with the gold in the women’s pentathlon on the first day of track competition, August 6. Other key Canadian coups should emerge from Carmen Ionesco in the women’s discus and shotput, and Greg Joy and Debbie Brill in the high jump. One of the better moments from an

Hinternational viewpoint, however, has to be the men’s 100-metre dash on August 7. when Trinidad’s Hasely Crawford (the Olympic gold medal winner) meets Jamaica’s Don Quarrie (Olympic silver). On August 10, Australia’s Raelene Boyle will attempt to win the women’s 200-metre event for her third such Commonwealth gold in a row. But the most notable race, undoubtedly, probably will happen on August 10, when Henry Rono, who is destined to be the main attraction of the Games, runs 5,000 metres against New Zealander Dick Quax and perhaps Tanzania’s Filbert Bayi.

Rono is a 25-year-old Kenyan who has set four world records in 1978 (breaking, among others, Quax’s record for the 5,000metre).

Diving and swimming: Noteworthy is Janet Nutter, gold medalist in the recent Canada Cup, who should easily win the gold medal in the highboard event. Swimming, however, is another story, as the competition between Canada and Australia will be on the highest international level, and where gold medals are still likely for a number of Canadians: Carol Klimpel, Wendy Quirk or Gail Amundrud in the 100-metre women’s freestyle: Becky Smith in the 200-metre individual medley; Wendy Quirk in the 100-metre butterfly; Don Thompson in the 100-metre butterfly; and Graham Smith in breaststroke. Star of the swimming events should be either Graham Smith or Australia’s Tracy Wickham in women’s freestyle, but Smith should have a distinct advantage—he’ll be performing in front of a home-town crowd.

Even a glorious victory for local boy Smith, however, will not take away the sting certain Edmontonians feel over the Games. The man whose idea brought the Commonwealth Games to the city, Alex Romaniuk, remains bitter from the day two years ago when he angrily resigned. Another man, Ivor Dent, who was once the mayor of the city and who probably did more than anyone to win the Games for Edmonton, will receive little recognition, thanks to a rift between him and several of the present organizers. When Romaniuk resigned as a chairman of the facilities in April, 1976, he went out saying, “It shouldn’t be much news to anybody that the whole thing is a mess.” The problem, according to Romaniuk, was Dr. Maury Van Vliet, the president of the Games. “He’s too autocratic,” Romaniuk charged.

“Decisions would be made, then changed,” Romaniuk now says of his

seven-year connection with the Games. He, and others, say the Edmonton experience has been one of over-administration—again, the direct opposite of Montreal—and he cites as an example the months he worked to gain permission to hire an executive assistant. The provincial government was willing to put up a salary of $19,600 and he only needed the goahead to hire. He eventually received it, hired his assistant—and then discovered that headquarters had their own demands to make on the new employee. “They wanted him to report in every morning, punch a clock and then drive all the way back to work with me,” Romaniuk says. “He told them to shove it.”

Maury Van Vliet, a 64-year-old former dean of the faculty of physical education at the University of Alberta, casts, as one of his detractors says, “a very long shadow.” He is involved in all facets of the Games, something those footing the bill adore and those actually working there often despise. Since he took over the presidency several months after Ivor Dent resigned it to concentrate on his mayor’s office—he was soon defeated—there has been little contact between the two men most closely associated with the Games. According to one member of the media services staff'. Van Vliet has specifically directed them to stop steering press people Dent’s way.

Dent has accepted a position as attache to the Canadian team, a lowly role that means in exchange for getting to march with the athletes he must pick up and deliver their uniforms. And he is quick to hint that the job did not come through much effort by Van Vliet. Dent obviously enjoys his “Forgotten Man” role to its full potential.

"The problem with Van Vliet,” says one of those who feel wronged by the presi-

dent, “is that he has no moxy as a politician. He doesn’t know how to bury a person.” Dent says the best way to have dealt with him would have been to have put on a special recognition night for him and Romaniuk, and then the two men would have faded as quickly as the applause.

Dent and Romaniuk, of course, have hardly been the only people problems. Dwayne Erickson, the media services manager, was reported by the Edmonton Journal to have said the Games would show a remarkable $4-million surplus, whereas there will likely be a $29,000 deficit. (Erickson claims there was a misunderstanding of what he said.) Some of the volunteers above Erickson were furious, branding the story as “ludicrous,” and just after the story appeared the locks to Erickson’s office were mysteriously changed overnight. Fortunately, a high-level meeting averted a crisis.

There are those who would criticize Van Vliet for precisely what a great many others find most admirable about the man: his sense of nickels and dimes. “Some might say I’m a wee bit astringent,” he says with a proud smile. But those more interested in athletic feats than buildings argue the Commonwealth facilities add up to a grocery list of sellouts, particularly where the $21-million Commonwealth Stadium is involved. “Don’t ever underestimate the political clout of the football team,” one of the key designers says. The track, for example, is built to absolute minimum specifications, with very sharp turns that probably will mean few records will be broken. It was built that way, of course, to ensure the stands will be close to the centre of the stadium for better football viewing. The track itself is rubber, where the athletes would prefer sand, but rubber stands up far better to football cleats.

“If we’d done the building, we would

have had different priorities,” says Geoff Elliott, the facilities coordinator who won gold medals in the 1954 and 1958 Games for England in the pole vault. “But of course they wouldn’t have been as valuable after the Games.” Elliott, like so many others, is perturbed that the city, which called so many of the shots, was far more concerned with after-Games use than with providing the best facilities for the athletes. The working theory throughout was compromise. “Once we had both sides mad at us we knew we were getting close,” says Stan Ragan, the engineer for the stadium. In the case of the velodrome, the banking is at the minimum level so that, the city claims, average kids will be able to use it. Some say it’s so that snowmobilers may someday stage races on it—something they already tried last winter when a group of them bashed through a fence to invade the facility one night. “In many cases,” says Elliott, “we’re trying to put a quart of milk into a pint.” The most interesting race, he adds, may well be seeing who arrives first at the all-too-few toilets.

Almost all the complaints are niggly— possibly as much bad news goes on in a car wash—but the combination of taxpayers’ money and Canadian pride—something that came in dead last during the Olympics—has meant added scrutiny for these Games. The special $50,000 Royal Biffy for the Queen’s private use has already seen some controversy, but probably will take second place once Canada and an estimated 500 million television viewers get to see the gaudy, 50-minute $250,000 opening ceremony show that is a disturbing break from the usually staid Commonwealth tradition. None of the songs written for the Games contain a single French phrase in the lyrics, composer Tommy Banks of Edmonton has written one which claims: “We’re gonna show the world . . .

that people of all pees can stay together. It’s possible. Love.(makes it possible.”

No one need be told that there is little love in Alberta for bilingualism. “We’ve already gone overboard,” Van Vliet says, pointing out that announcements and the scoreboard will be in French and English. “It’s strictly a Canadian political problem.” He reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out the Games’ constitution, opening it deftly to Article 8: The official language of The Commonwealth Games shall be English. “Say you were from Nigeria,” he adds. “Couldn’t you then say ‘What about Swahili?’ ” Such sentiments are bound to be common in Edmonton. One former Commonwealth gold-medal winner who begged not to be identified says: “I was made to feel like a foreigner in Montreal. I wasn’t treated at all well. But I consider it my country even if they don’t consider me a part of theirs. Now I’ve got the chance to do something where I’ll be appreciated.” Obviously, the original concept of the “Friendly Games” is in some danger. For those who will see beyond the sniping and pettiness, however, there will still be the image of Henry Rono going into his backstretch kick with 100 yards to go, and for several breathless, still moments there will be only Henry Rono and the Commonwealth Games, the true moment of high grace that such events are supposed to produce. And if the weather holds out and the CBC technicians aren’t on strike, then the Edmonton Games cannot help but be a success, regardless of what has gone on or will happen in the months to come. Even Alex Romaniuk, the man who dreamed up the Edmonton Games, has bought a ticket so he can at least sit, unrecognized and unacknowledged, and witness whatever takes place. As he says, “We’ll have the best Games in the world—despite what’s happened ”0