Two accents stood out this fall when coach Cleburne Price assembled his new track and field squad on the athletic grid of the University of Texas. One was a Longhorn drawl, naturally; but the other was clipped and a trifle more harsh. Canadian.
There are seven Canadians on the Texas team, including the incumbent Southwest Conference mile champion, two members of the fastest twomile relay team in America and a fine young shot-putter. Multiply that
John Craig is the author of The Pro and several other novels.
seven by 10 and it gives a fairly accurate estimate of how many Canadians are involved in track and field in the U.S.
In Canada their names would ring no bells. But this is a country never much taken by track and field stars anyway, isolated exceptions being made for Bruce Kidd and Bill Crothers in their heydays. Canada just doesn’t train winners (the last Olympic gold medal we won in track and field was in 1932, when Duncan McNaughton captured the high jump). The United States does. And so you can’t blame these 70 or so athletes for having emigrated to where they’ll be assured of the best training, competition and facilities — and perhaps even a little recognition in the sports pages, something they never got at home. They know that if they can cut it in track and field in the U.S. they can cut it anywhere. Cutting it in Canada just isn’t as rewarding.
Nor are the scholarships. Over a four-year university career they mean as much as $15,000 to the individual; some colleges — Texas State, for example — even throw in $10 a month for laundry, presuming there’ll be a lot of sweat to bleach out. A Canadian runner, discus thrower, shot putter or pole vaulter isn’t going to need long to opt for the promise of recognition and financial reward over the prospect of staying home and putting himself through college, all the while suffering inferior facilities, training and competition.
And even if he were desperately nationalistic and decided to go after one of the few athletic grants the federal government does offer, he’d be sadly disappointed. Only a very, very few of these grants are earmarked for track and field — and those invariably go to a handful of already established stars such as polevaulter Bruce Simpson or long-distance runner Grant McLaren.
Last year, Paul Craig — who happens to be my son and the current Canadian 1,500-metre champion — wrote to Ottawa to inquire about the possibilities of a scholarship and was turned down flat. Sorry, the reply read, but why not try us again when you’ve achieved international recognition? Since the place to do that is in the U.S., “. . . our recommendation is that you accept an American scholarship.”
So my son Paul went south and joined his brother John (the Canadian junior 800-metre champion in 1972) at the University of Texas, where they’ll train under coach Price. They’ve dropped from sight; they’re American college lettermen now, just like shot-putter Bishop Dolegiewicz
(originally from Toronto), sprinter Albin Dukowski (Vancouver), distancemen Louis Groarke (Calgary) and Brian Maxwell (Toronto), javelinthrower Rick Dowswell (Sarnia), triple-jumper Jim Buchanan (Toronto) and several dozen others.
They’re Canadian unknowns, heroes in a strange land. They think about Canada a lot; it’s still home, and even if they never had the chance to make it big back there the next few years might change all that. In fact some of them even have a slogan, a kind of in-group clarion call, “Run For ’76.” It refers to the upcoming world Olympics in Montreal. That summer, they’re convinced, Canada will enjoy the best Olympic showing since the vintage year 1928, the days of the great Percy Williams.
It may not be idle thinking. They’re young enough today to be in their prime when 1976 comes around. And when you add their abilities to those of the female athletes who stayed home (few American schools actively recruit female athletes), Canada may finally climb out of the track and field boondocks. The women have proven talent in Ottawa’s Glenda Reiser (1,500 metres), Calgary’s Ann Mackie (400 metres), Toronto’s Abby Hoffman (800 Metres), and Mississauga’s Debbie Van Kiekebelt (pentathlon). There’s a hint of gold, silver and bronze in the air.
There’s also that odd mystique to the Olympics that has traditionally given the host country an extra step, a couple of added inches, maybe a few spare seconds. It happened in Italy in 1960. Tokyo in 1964, Mexico in 1968, and West Germany in 1972. And if our national anthem starts getting played after 1976’s track and field events, the Canadian sports fan is going to have a lot of unfamiliar names to catch up on.
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