The skies over Edmonton cleared for a fortnight and when they closed in again, Canada stood astride the Commonwealth and two children of the Prairies reaped a golden harvest.
It was the brightest moment in a dazzling year for Canadian athletes, amateur and professional. As the snow fell, receded and fell again, the year passed, unlike the preceding ones with but one or two outstanding performers to warm nationalists’ hearts and one or two hamlets momentarily in the sun. Gone the days of the solitary modern-day Canadian hero and heroine, of cheers focused on a Bill Crothers, an Elaine Tanner, a Doug Rogers, a Nancy Greene, a Harry Jerome. In 1978, the nation basked in the glow of a crowd of individuals and teams, warmed by the ’76 Olympics and fired by the Edmonton Games, as they cast their shadows across the world of sport.
In the midst of a $36-million complex that would serve his home town for years, before the gaze of Queen and Empire, Graham Smith touched first for a record six Commonwealth gold medals.
After a history of mini-mites of the water, Canada finally had a pair of broad shoulders to carry the swim team to its first victory over Australia in the history of the Games. Almost lost in Smith’s wake were Bill Sawchuk’s seven medals (two golds, three silvers, two bronze) and Carol Klimpel’s three golds.
And it was that other home-towner who in one sun-filled day grabbed the country’s heart and the world’s spotlight. The five-foot, 10V2-inch, 146pound, 27-year-old Diane Jones-Konihowski leaped, jumped, shot-put, hurdled and ran to the pentathlon gold and the highest point total (4,768) registered in the event in 1978.
Away from the stadium and pool were 14-year-olds Elfte Schlegel, Sherry Hawco and Monica Goermann and veteran Karen Kelsall, 15, dominating the gymnastics. And there was gold and glory for Jocelyn Lovell, Russ Prior, Phil Olsen, Linda Cuthbert and dozens of others as Canada dominated the games.
The newfound bravado and hardearned confidence were embodied in the men’s downhill ski team, now legitimate contenders on the World Cup circuit, and surfaced in world-class performances by individuals: solo synchronized-swimming world champion Helen Vandenburg of Calgary and duet synchronized-swimming world champions Vandenburg and Michele Calkins; U.S. Squash Racquets Association singles and collegiate champion Mike Desaulniers of Montreal and singles 40s champion George Morfitt of Vancouver; world dogsled-racing champion Eugene Corbin of Quebec City; North American luge champion Larry Arbuthnot; threeday horse show world champion Canadian team; 200-metre individual medley world champion Graham Smith; Paul Gowsell and his Calgary rink’s world junior curling championship; and the yacht Evergreen’s victory in the Canada’s Cup.
And there was Guy Lafleur winning the National Hockey League scoring title and most valuable player award as he led les Canadiens to another Stanley Cup; the Peterborough Red Oaks winning lacrosse’s Mann Cup in seven games; and the Edmonton Eskimos and Tom Wilkinson winning the Grey Cup; and Tony Gabriel named as the outstanding player in his country’s pro football league; Gilles Villeneuve winning his first Grand Prix race before his countrymen in Montreal; Leo
Rautins scoring double figures in his debut in big-time U.S. college basketball; Glenn Michibata drawing raves in junior tennis; Lars Hansen playing pro basketball; Greg Athans winning the world ballet and mogul free-style ski championships; George Chuvalo successfully defending his Canadian heavyweight boxing title at age 41; Loreen Passfield named the top female professional marathon swimmer in the world for the second straight year; Sandra Post winning two Ladies Professional Golf Association tournaments; and a host of other top performances, heralded or obscure.
But few anywhere could match the accomplishments of two Ontario women. Susan Nattrass, 27, of Waterloo (formerly of Edmonton) won her fourth world trapshooting championship at Seoul. She scored a record 195 of a possible 200, eclipsing her world title record of 192 set the year before.
And Cathy Sherk, of Port Colborne, in her first concentrated assault on toplevel golf, put together probably the finest year ever by an amateur woman golfer. Sherk won the Ontario, Canadian, and U.S. championships, the renowned North-South tournament, then topped it by taking the women’s world amateur individual championship.
And there were crushing defeats and runners-up in 1978, but the perennial chorus of “if we’d only,” “with more time,” “if they didn’t,” died away in a year when so many shouted: “We did.”
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