Olympic-calibre athletes speak proudly of their top performances—so-called personal bests. Those achievements are the result of a blend of raw talent, long hours of practice, and personal sacrifices. As they train in the shadow of superstar sprinter Ben Johnson, the 60 other members of the Canadian track-and-field team lead disciplined lives that are dominated by frequent tests of their endurance and patience. But many of the country’s top athletes say that, although Ottawa provides them with grants to correr training costs and in some cases living expenses, most Canadian corporations show little interest in backing Olympic competitors—unlike their U.S. counterparts. Seven weeks before the start of the xxiv Summer Olympics in Seoul, six medal candidates spoke to Maclean’s about their hopes:
Steeplechaser Graeme Fell
Graeme Fell, 29, who is ranked first in Canada in the 3,000-m steeplechase, said that in May he was in the best condition of his 16-year track career. But late that month, he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. Now, said Fell, “I’m not even thinking about the Olympics—I’m just taking it day by day, trying to get my form back.” He faces a formidable task.
Steeplechasing consists of 7 xh laps incorporating four three-foot-high barriers, one of which stands before a water pit that extends for 12 feet. In 1983, the London-born runner immigrated to Vancouver where he now lives with his wife, Deborah Campbell—a former 800-m Canadian champion who is now resuming her athletic career—and their eightmonth-old daughter, Corri-Ann.
He began competing for Canada two years after his arrival in Vancouver. In 1985, in fact, he recorded his best time ever—
8:12.58 minutes—in a race that was held in Nice, France. Because Fell is among the top eight competitors in his event in the world,
Sport Canada has accorded him an A-card rating, a status that entitles him to receive $650 in federal support grants each month. He also makes about $10,000 a year from endorsements for the Japanese runningshoe company Mizuno 700. Still,
Fell criticizes the failure of many Canadian corporations to sponsor good amateur athletes. He added, “There is the perception that amateur sport can’t get the corporations enough exposure to
be worth the involvement—and I think that’s a misconception.”
Sprinter Angella Issajenko
Angella Issajenko, Canada’s top female 100-m sprinter and the sixth-fastest woman in the world, is widely known for her intense competitiveness—and acerbic personality. She still maintains a grudge against her longtime Canadian rival, 27-year-old Angela Bailey of Mississauga, Ont.—in January, 1983, the two women tangled in a public shoving and hair-pulling match at an indoor meet in Toronto. And last week, Issajenko had only scathing words for the most likely Canadian to beat her. She declared: “Who cares? Maybe she’s dead.”
On Sept. 1,1985, one month after getting married and one year after her disappointing performance at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles — a bad result that was caused, she said, by a hamstring pull —Issajenko gave birth to her daughter, Sacha. But in 1987, in Cologne, West Germany, she achieved a personal best of 10.97 seconds in the 100-m event. Until recently, that time was only .21 seconds slower than the world record of 10.76 seconds—a mark that U.S. runner Evelyn Ashford set in 1984. But on July 16, U.S. sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner lowered the record to 10.49 seconds. That astounding time, which was only .66 seconds behind Q superstar Ben Johnson’s current record in the men’s 100-m dash, 16 touched off a controversy that echoed around the world.
Officials conducting the U.S. Olympic trials in Indianapolis accepted the time. But some critics said that wind gauges had failed to detect a strong but sporadic tail wind that may have propelled Griffith-Joyner to her record finish. Issajenko derided the U.S. acceptance of that record—and added that she remains confident that she will do well in Seoul, despite bursitis in her left heel. Commenting on her chances of beating her personal best in Seoul, she said, “I’d better.”
Discus thrower Ray Lazdins
Weighing 245 lb. and standing six feet, six inches, Ray Lazdins—Canada’s topranked discus thrower—is an imposing figure. Said the 23-year-old athlete: “If you’re going to be good in this event, you have to be big.” Lazdins, the Hamilton-born son of Latvian immigrants, has been training for five years under the supervision of coach Bogdan Poprawski at the University of Toronto. During the winter—his most intensive training period—Lazdins spends about seven hours each day lifting weights and doing other exercises to maintain his upperand lower-body strength. That regimen helped him to win a gold medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. And now Lazdins is looking forward to his Olympic debut. He added: “It will probably be one of several Olympic appearances. I’m relatively junior in discus, where you usually peak in your early 30s.” After the Games’ closing festivities, Lazdins plans to participate in a more personal ceremony: a marriage to Carolyn Shippel, of Lindsay, Ont., his U of T sweetheart.
Hurdler Julie Rocheleau
At an international meet last May in Provo, Utah, Montreal athlete Julie Rocheleau completed the 100-m hurdles in 12.78 seconds—breaking a Canadian record of 13.27 seconds that had stood for almost five years. Said Roger Burrows, coaching certification co-ordinator for the Canadian Track and Field Association: “Julie didn’t just break the record—she smashed it.” And as the 24year-old Rocheleau prepares to compete
in her first Olympics, she said that she is also considering challenging Issajenko and Bailey in the 100-m dash in Ottawa. Meanwhile, Rocheleau plans to continue to train at the Claude Robillard Centre in Montreal, where she has acted as her own coach for the past three years. Said
Rocheleau last week: “I’m self-motivated—and I feel good about the Olympics.”
Decathlete Mike Smith
Easygoing and self-confident, Mike Smith—who regularly wears a diamond-chip stud in his left earlobe—said last week in Toronto that he is eager for the Games to start. “I hope to do well,” said Smith, 20, “but I’m still pretty young.” He added that decathletes, who amass points by competing in 10 gruelling events including high-jumping, polevaulting and sprinting, usually do not achieve their best performances until their late 20s. Smith’s personal best is 8,126 points—only 289 points less than the biggest score accumulated by Canadian champion David Steen and 672 points short of the world record shared by Britain’s Daley Thompson and Jürgen Hingsen of West Germany. Smith, who is six feet, five inches and weighs 215 lb., said that he was still growing when he moved 1,300 km from Kenora, Ont., to Toronto in September, 1985. He acknowledged that he sometimes misses the scenic wilderness surrounding his home town, but he added that he felt good about moving to Toronto. Added Smith: “I have travelled to Europe half a dozen times. At the age of 20, I have had more experiences than I would have had in any other sport.”
Long-jumper Tracy Smith
Tracy Smith will be participating in her first Olympic Games in September and the 23-year-old long-jumper—Canada’s best and number 21 in world rankings— said that she can visualize success in Seoul. “I’m there in my head,” she said last week in Toronto, where she trains with coaches Charlie Francis and Sue Popaditch at York University. “I watch myself run down the track, take off for the jump, execute it and land—and I see a big jump at the Olympics.” Smith does not like to talk about her best performance. But she hopes to be one of the few women who can achieve a jump of more than seven metres. (The world record, set in June by Galina Chistyakova of the Soviet Union, in Leningrad, is 7.52 m.) To that end, Smith deferred her courses in economics and urban geography at the University of Toronto last year in favor of a heavy training schedule of up to seven hours a day. She is also on the comeback trail. She said that she had become apprehensive about running and jumping after tearing a tendon in her right heel a year ago. Still, Smith says that she remains confident about her chances in Seoul. Said Smith: “I tend to be an athlete who doesn’t need to be kicked to get going. It’s the opposite— sometimes I have to be sat on.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.