Canada honors its golden heroes

Hal Quinn August 20 1984

Canada honors its golden heroes

Hal Quinn August 20 1984

Canada honors its golden heroes


Hal Quinn

For 15 days, the Golden Games of the XXIII Olympiad unfolded as a vast athletic spectacle dominated by memorable performances, enthusiastic crowds and nonstop American flag-waving. By almost any standard the Los Angeles Olympics were a resounding success, even though the Soviet Union and 14 other countries boycotted them and several minor disputes—along with one major controversy—erupted. In gymnastics-judge language, the entire show deserved at least a 9.5—in entertainment, athletic excellence and organizational achievement. The host nation, taking full advantage of the absence of hundreds of star athletes from the Communist Bloc, utterly dominated the medal standings. But other nations enjoyed magic moments in the California sunshine, too. Among them was Canada, which had won an unprecedented 10 gold, 17 silver and 16 bronze medals as the final day of competition began on Sunday.

In essence, Canada came of athletic age at Los Angeles. Canadian swimmers, boxers, divers, cyclists, oarsmen and paddlers established themselves as legitimate world-class performers. And Canadian specialists in most other fields served notice that if they were still a step slower, if their leaps were a centimetre or two shorter than their foreign rivals’, the gaps were steadily narrowing. Said an exultant Jack Lynch, technical director of the Canadian Olympic Association: “I have never seen such an aura of confidence around an international Canadian team. Our performance at Los Angeles is really a continuation from [speedskater] Gaétan Boucher’s two gold medals at Sarajevo this winter.” Perhaps fittingly, the next athlete to carry the Olympic flame into an arena will be a Canadian, the site will be Calgary and the occasion will be the 1988 Winter Games, at which Canada’s athletes and their newfound legion of fans will expect the march toward excellence to continue.

Last week Canada applauded goldmedal performances by its heavy eights crew with coxswain, who sped to the front and outlasted a determined American crew over the 2,000-m course on Lake Casitas; diver Sylvie Bernier, 20, of Ste-Foy, Que., who won a dramatic duel on the springboard with runner-up Kelly McCormick of the United States; canoeist Larry Cain, 21, of Oakville, Ont., who won the 500-m singles event and

took a silver in the 1,000-m; kayakers Hugh Fisher and Alwyn Morris in the 1000-m pairs; and Lori Fung, 21, of Vancouver, who captured the all-around women’s championship in rhythmic gymnastics.

They joined the previous week’s honor roll of instant heroes: swimming stars Alex Baumann, Victor Davis and Anne Ottenbrite, as well as pistol ace Linda Thom. The total medal harvest by Canada far surpassed the nation’s previous best—the 15 medals collected at the 1932 Olympics, also held in Los Angeles. And it represented a standard for Canadian athletes to seek to better at the 1988 Summer Olympiad in Seoul.

The Los Angeles Games were a celebration of the host country. From the Hollywood-style opening ceremonies to

comedian Bob Hope’s garden party for U.S. medallists, from cheerleaders on local radio stations to ABC TV’S unabashed and widely criticized proAmerican fervor, the U.S. hosts proclaimed, “We’re all right,” and the U.S. Olympians echoed the sentiment, dominating the Games as never before. By Sunday the Americans had won an astounding 169 medals, including 80 golds. West—not East—Germany also shone, with 58 medals and 16 golds, but the Chinese and Romanians also won thunderous applause from the American crowds. The chants of “U-S-A” gave way to boisterous cheering for the Romanians’ 53 medal winners for their refusal to join in Moscow’s boycott. And there

were cheers, too, for the Peoples’ Republic of China’s 15 gold medallists, who competed for the first time alongside athletes from Taiwan.

The bitterest controversy broke out on Friday night during the anxiously awaited race for the gold in the women’s 3,000-m run. The U.S. favorite, Mary Decker, was approaching the 1,700-m mark when Britain’s Zola Budd attempted to cut in front of her to take the lead. Decker stepped on the back of Budd’s leg and both women lost their balance. Decker pulled a muscle in her hip and she was unable to continue. Budd, with cuts on her left leg, continued running, but the highly acclaimed athlete finished a disappointing seventh, and Canada’s Lynn Williams collected an unexpected third-place bronze.

A race umpire at first signalled a foul, disqualifying Budd. But the British team lodged a protest, and officials overturned the disqualification for the 18-year-old Budd, who left apartheid South Africa six months ago and rapidly obtained British citizenship in order to take part in the Games.

Decker was infuriated at being sidelined by the barefoot Budd. “I hold her responsible for what happened,” declared the American. “I was running a very good race. My first thought was to get up, but I felt the muscle pull. All I could do was watch them run off.” A visibly distraught Budd said she was hurt by the jeering she got from the partisan crowd. “I am not unhappy with

the way I raced,” she said, “just unhappy that Mary fell and the way I seem to have the blame.”

These were to have been the Carl Lewis Games, and in a way they were. But something happened to the celebrated American superstar between the hype and the gold-medal podium. The 23-year-old Lewis’s goal was to match Jesse Owens’ historic four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Games, where Owens won the 100-m and 200-m dashes, the 4xl00-m relay and the long jump. Lewis matched Owens’ record feat, but the way in which he won tarnished his medals and perhaps cost him some of his gilt-edged future. After winning the 100-m sprint, Lewis toured the track waving an American flag. He did the same after winning the 200-m—but the

long jump had come between. Heralded as the greatest athlete in the world, Lewis jumped 8.5 m on his first attempt and fouled on his next.

More than 85,000 people had paid as much as $50 to watch him, and to praise him. But rather than jump again in pursuit of the 16-year-old world record of 8.9 m set by American Robert Beamon in Mexico City, Lewis walked the Coliseum infield, drank from a paper cup and passed up his next four opportunities. He said later he wanted to avoid the risk of injury. But the announcement that his first and only jump had won the gold medal was greeted with jeers and boos from the crowd. For Jesse Owens, the long jump was a test, one-fourth of a

heroic trial. For Lewis, it merely provoked disdain. Lewis may have matched Owens’ Olympian feat, but he did not equal its quality.

For two days last week, not even Lewis could command the spotlight. Americans had won 10 of the past 14 Olympic decathlons they had entered. But last week the decathlon belonged to a Briton named Daley Thompson. Now 26, Thompson finished out of the medals in Montreal in 1976, but since then he has laid a powerful claim to the title “world’s greatest athlete.” He won his first Olympic gold in Moscow in 1980. At the time, he kidded Bruce Jenner, who “went Hollywood” right after winning in 1976. Said Thompson: “Now I’ll do films —blue movies.” But instead, Thompson, the son of a Scottish mother and Nigerian father (his name—“Daley”—comes from the Nigerian nickname, “Ayodele,” meaning “Joy enters the house”), began training for Los Angeles. Last week he became only the second man to win two Olympic decathlons, defeating world-record holder Jiiergen Hingsen of West Germany.

Thompson is irreverent, a natural comedian who faintly resembles U.S. film star and humorist Richard Pryor. In his victory lap around the Coliseum, Thompson acknowledged the fans by wearing a T-shirt reading: “Thanks America, for a good Games and a good time.” The back of the shirt read: “But what about the TV coverage?” Explained Thompson later: “Well, it was so bi-

ased.” He saved his best shot until the end. At a press conference following his victory he revealed another T-shirt which read: “Is the world’s secondgreatest athlete gay?”—a pointed reference to Carl Lewis. “Of course in Britain,” said Thompson with a smile, “gay means happy.”

In the boxing ring, heavyweight Willie deWit, 23, of Grand Prairie, Alta., lost a closely fought gold medal match Saturday, while Toronto’s Shawn O’Sullivan lost his gold-medal light middleweight fight with American Frank Tate, a disputed decision which O’Sullivan accepted with grace. But the scoring of amateur fights all but defies explanation. By almost any standard, O’Sullivan lost to Christophe Tiozzo of France in their bronze-medal bout on Thursday. The judges ruled 3 to 2 for Tiozzo. However, such close decisions are then handed over to a jury, which, in this case, after a five-minute recess, ruled 4 to 1 for the Canadian. Said O’Sullivan then: “I’ve had some close decisions go against me, too.” DeWit’s gold-medal opponent, Henry Tillman, had lost the bronze medal bout to Italy’s Angelo Musone, but the jury overruled that one, too.

Happily, the only judge of excellence on the track is an electronic timer. And last week American Valerie BriscoHooks was judged to be the fastest woman Olympian in both the 200-m and 400m dashes. “My coach told me that if I won the 200 and 4001 would be the queen of the world,” she said. “That’s exactly

how I feel.” Brisco-Hooks became the first athlete—man or woman—in Olympic history to win both of those demanding races. And she added a third gold with the U.S. women’s relay team.

In an Olympiad of many firsts for Canada, none was more charming than the gold-medal victory by diver Bernier, a health sciences student who is a pixie-

ish five feet, three inches and weighs only 110 lb. Bernier was first in the three-metre springboard at a CanadianU.S.-Mexican meet last year, but few gave her much chance for better than a bronze against the favored Kelly McCormick and her U.S. teammate Chris Seufert. But Bernier prevailed under intense pressure—with her earphones. She had run into trouble in previous meets by concentrating on the scoreboard instead of dives. Last week, however, Bernier ignored the scoreboard and between dives listened to the soundtrack from Flashdance on her Walkman. She took the lead on the third of 10 dives and held the lead throughout. Ecstatic afterward, she said: “I had no idea I was even in the top three. I have been diving for 12 years, and know that it’s not good for me to know what place I am in.” Bernier became the first Canadian to win an Olympic diving gold, and only the second to win an Olympic diving medal. Irene MacDonald of Hamilton, Ont., won a bronze in 1956.

Cain, who declared that “canoeing is not a skill, it is j ust hard work,” was only one of 28 young paddlers and oarsmen who won medals at Lake Casitas, 135 km miles north of Los Angeles. The best Olympic showing before these Games had been a gold and silver at Melbourne in 1956. But on Aug. 7 the men’s heavy eights, competing in rowing’s prestige event, captured the first Canadian rowing gold since 1964 in Tokyo when George Hungerford and Roger Jackson won the coxless pairs event. Said Jim Joy, technical co-ordinator of the Cana-

dian Amateur Rowing Association: “We decided 18 months ago to prioritize the eights, and we put all of our eggs in that basket.” Two of Joy’s “eggs” were 26year-old Toronto twins Mike and Mark Evans. They had qualified for the Games in the pairs event but were persuaded to join the eights. Said Mike: “Just before our race, I was sitting in our boat tent and I heard that the Spanish pair had won the silver medal. We had beaten them, so even at the last moment, I was wondering about our decision.” But the Canadian eights, rowing their 58-foot West German-made shell, held off a final sprint by the Americans to win by three metres.

For their part, Canada’s women won two silver rowing medals. Tricia Smith, 27, of Vancouver and Betty Craig, 26, of Brockville, Ont., just failed to catch the Romanian pair. And the Canadian four with coxswain won yet another silver behind the powerful Romanians. But Smith and Craig came perilously close to missing their medal when, shortly before their race, they veered into the wrong lane during practice and collided with a singles scull paddled by Heather Hattin of Mississauga, Ont. The bow of Hattin’s boat struck Craig on the buttocks and knocked her into lake. Said Craig, after being treated for her slight —but embarrassing—injury: “Well, there go my centrefold chances.”

In the yachting competition, off Long Beach, Canada’s Terry McLaughlin, 28, who was skipper of Canada 1 in the 1983 America’s Cup, won a silver medal in the two-man Flying Dutchman class with

crew Evert Bastet. And Terry Neilson, 26, of Toronto, won a bronze in the single-handed Finn class, while Hans Fogh, 46, who won a silver medal for his native Denmark in 1960 before moving to Toronto, won a bronze in the Soling class.

At times the Games were more like Hollywood screen tests than athletic competitions. Carl Lewis’s agent spoke of his client’s vast post-Olympiad potential, sprinter Evelyn Ashford called her gold medal a “ticket to fame and fortune” and decathlon champion Thompson said that if Madison Avenue calls, he will answer. Canadian swimmer Baumann has signed with Sportscom International Inc. to exploit his two golds. And even without a gold-medal heavyweight boxer deWit may reap a rich harvest of post-Games cash. Last week his manager said that six syndicates and the three major U.S. TV networks were offering contracts.

Total expenditure on this year’s Games by the federal government’s Sports Canada was roughly $25 million. And during the past four years taxpayers through Sports Canada have dumped about $75 million into amateur sports. For the Americans, the Los Angeles Games will probably be remembered as much for what did not happen—widely forecast traffic, smog and security problems—as for their record attendance figures and brilliant performances. But Canadians will likely remember the 1984 Games as the year that the federal government’s amateur sports program finally paid off.