Capturing a country through sport: The crossovers

Capturing a country through sport: The crossovers

To celebrate our country’s birthday, the Star is showcasing 150 of the quintessential Canadian sporting characters and moments of the last 150 years. In Part 2 of our 10-part series, we highlight the Canadians whose skill and talent exceeded their chosen sporting specialty.

 

Clara Hughes holds up her gold medal for Women's 5000m Speed skating and a small maple leaf that was hidden in the ice of the track at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.  (Bernard Weil / Toronto Star File Photo) 

To celebrate our country’s birthday, the Star is showcasing 150 of the quintessential Canadian sporting characters and moments of the last 150 years.

In the second instalment of our 10-part series, we highlight the Canadians whose skill and talent exceeded their chosen sporting specialty.

Read more: Canada 150: Capturing a country through sport

Clara Hughes

The first came after a stirring ride through the streets of Buckhead, Ga., the site of the road racing competition at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a fresh-faced, red-haired darling of Canadian cycling capturing the hearts of sports fans across the country with a bronze medal in road cycling.

The last medal came after a blistering tour around the speed-skating oval in Vancouver in 2010, with a beloved Canadian icon, the likes of which the world had never seen, capturing yet another Olympic medal, this one the bronze in the 5,000 metres.

Vancouver marked her fifth Olympics and the medal was her sixth, a testament to the crossover sports skills of the incomparable Clara Hughes.

There are so many Canadian athletes who have been multi-faceted, so talented in sports and successful in life’s endeavours, but Hughes is one who stands out from the others because of the breadth of her accomplishments and contributions.

Now 44 years old and one of the country’s leaders in the fight for mental health awareness and initiatives, Hughes accomplished in her career things that no athlete on Earth ever has.

She competed in six Games — 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney, 2002 Salt Lake City, 2006 Turin, 2010 Vancouver, 2012 London — and six times stood upon the medal podium. She is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games.

But there is so much more to Hughes that’s far more important than her sporting exploits.

She says she has dealt with depression for most of her life and is an outspoken advocate for mental health issues. Her speeches inspire, her work with the annual Bell Let’s Talk initiative let people know it’s okay to ask for help. It is now the passion that replaced sporting competition in her life.

“Mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time in their lives,” she said earlier this year. “With proper education, early intervention and proper treatment, a person can not only return to life and work, they can thrive and prosper,” says Hughes. “Stigma is what prevents many people from getting help. The more mental health stories are shared, the greater the chance to break down the walls of stigma, the better chance of people getting the help they need and deserve.”

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Conn Smythe

Conn Smythe with the Stanley Cup.
Conn Smythe with the Stanley Cup.  (Michael Burns)  

In just five months in the height of the Great Depression, from June to November 1931, Conn Smythe oversaw the building of old Maple Leaf Gardens, as famous a sports shrine as has ever, or ever will, exist in Canada.

Smythe’s name is on the Stanley Cup eight times and horses he owned won the Queen’s Plate twice and 145 stakes races overall.

That alone would be an impressive Canadian legacy but Smythe, born in 1895, was so much more.

He was a war hero who served in both World Wars, earning the Military Cross for bravery in 1917, for “dispersing an enemy party at a critical time. Himself accounted for three of the enemy with his revolver.”

Earl Bascom

Earl Bascom, often referred to as the father of the modern rodeo, rides a bull at the Puyallup, Washington rodeo in 1939.
Earl Bascom, often referred to as the father of the modern rodeo, rides a bull at the Puyallup, Washington rodeo in 1939.

Angry bulls to wild horses, there wasn’t anything on four legs that Earl Bascom couldn’t get the better of in a rodeo from 1916 to 1940. But it was his desire to find a way to make things work better that makes the Raymond, Alta., cowboy remembered as the father of the modern rodeo.

Bascom, with help from his brothers, built the modern bucking chute in 1916 and he improved on the design in 1919. Over the next decade, he developed the first hornless bronc saddle, improving cowboy safety; the first one-handed bareback rigging; the forerunner to modern riding chaps; and a spring steel rodeo exerciser, the first cowboy specific training device.

Later in life, he became an internationally known artist and sculptor of rodeo scenes in bronze preserving the cowboy life in art.

Dick Pound

Swimmer, senior IOC executive, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, tax lawyer: Dick Pound has been and done it all.
Swimmer, senior IOC executive, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, tax lawyer: Dick Pound has been and done it all.  (Dave Chidley)  

He is known today as one of the world’s leading crusaders against doping in sports, one of the founders and the first president of the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency and that has cast Dick Pound into an important global role, not only in Olympic sports but branching out into North American professional sports as well.

But it is just the continuation of a lifetime in sports that began for Pound as one of the country’s best swimmers.

Before morphing into his current lofty position, the man named by Time magazine as one of the “100 most influential people in the world” in 2005 was four-time Canadian freestyle swim champion — 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962 — and an Olympian himself. He was sixth in the 100-metre freestyle at the 1960 Rome Games, at which he also placed fourth with the 4x100-metre Canadian relay team.

Cathy Priestner Allinger

Cathy Priestner-Allinger was a world class speedskater during her athletic prime. But she's made a more lasting mark as one of the architects of the Own the Podium funding program.
Cathy Priestner-Allinger was a world class speedskater during her athletic prime. But she's made a more lasting mark as one of the architects of the Own the Podium funding program.  (DOUGLAS C. PIZAC)  

She won silver in the 500 metres at the 1976 Innsbruck Games to become the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic speed skating medal, then moved on to an impressive career in sport administration in Canada and abroad.

Most remarkably, at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, Cathy Priestner Allinger was the first woman named to the high-ranking post of sports director for an Olympics and, after that, she was the lead author of Canada’s Own the Podium program, which has entirely transformed the way elite sport is funded.

That program, created in the lead-up to the 2010 Vancouver Games, targets federal funding to athletes with the greatest potential to win and has been credited for increasing the Canadian Olympic medal count.

Jake Gaudaur

Jake Gaudaur had a long career with the Ticats, but an even longer one as commissioner of the Canadian Football League.
Jake Gaudaur had a long career with the Ticats, but an even longer one as commissioner of the Canadian Football League.  (Paul Hourigan)  

As a child, Jake Gaudaur followed in the sporting footsteps of the father for whom he was named. He, like his dad, was a national rowing champion as well as a top-flight lacrosse player, mastering two sports deeply ingrained in the country’s history.

But it was in football where Gaudaur had his biggest impact. He began as a player, finally settling with the Hamilton Tigers in 1948 before they merged two years later with the Hamilton Wildcats (hence, Tiger-Cats, you see?) and ended his on-field career as a Grey Cup champion in 1953.

He then became the team’s director, president and general manager for 11 years before moving into his most familiar role as the commissioner of the Canadian Football League from 1968 to 1984, the longest-serving boss in the history of the league.

Alex Decoteau

Born in 1887, Alex Decoteau of the Red Pheasant First Nation near Battleford, Sask., was only 30 when he died, but he left a lasting legacy in athletics and law enforcement in his short time.

He began running in school and when he moved to Edmonton he started winning middle-distance races, sometimes just days apart, and set numerous Western Canadian records. He competed for Canada at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, finishing sixth in the 5,000-metre event.

A year before those Summer Games, he joined the Edmonton City Police force, becoming the first First Nations police officer in Canada. He was killed in 1917 during the First World War on the Western Front.

Carla Qualtrough

Carla Qualtrough, a former Paralympic swimmer and human rights lawyer, is Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.
Carla Qualtrough, a former Paralympic swimmer and human rights lawyer, is Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.

She often speaks about the inspiring power of sport and the ability it has to change lives and that’s something Carla Qualtrough knows first hand.

Visually impaired from birth, she became an accomplished Paralympic swimmer with three bronze medals in relays from the 1988 and 1992 Paralympics and a heartbreaking four fourth-place finishes in individual events.

After leaving the competitive pool, she became a successful human rights lawyer and sports administrator. In 2015, Qualtrough was elected the Liberal Member of Parliament for Delta, B.C., and became Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities where she continues to advocate for the power of sport and physical activity to change the lives of Canadians.

Bruce Kidd

Bruce Kidd took 1952 Olympic footage filmed by his dad in Helsinki and ran with it, later becoming a Commonwealth and Canadian long-distance running champion.
Bruce Kidd took 1952 Olympic footage filmed by his dad in Helsinki and ran with it, later becoming a Commonwealth and Canadian long-distance running champion.  (The Canadian Press Photo Archive)  

He made headlines in 1961 for winning a two-mile indoor race in Boston in record time — and as a 17-year-old Toronto high school runner, no less.

Bruce Kidd was one of Canada’s great middle-distance runners, setting records throughout the early 1960s until injuries brought his racing career to an early close.

He helped inspire a generation of Canadian runners but it’s his decades of work as an educator at the University of Toronto, a ceaseless advocate of athletes’ rights and agitator for an end to racism and gender discrimination in all its forms, that has had such a profound and positive impact on sport here at home and internationally.

Hazel McCallion

She's best known as the long-time mayor of Mississauga, but Hazel McCallion was also a women's hockey pioneer.
She's best known as the long-time mayor of Mississauga, but Hazel McCallion was also a women's hockey pioneer.  (Frank Calleja)  

A feisty and determined leader, she was the mayor of Mississauga from 1978 to 2014. But Hazel McCallion also used the deft footwork and stick-handling abilities that served her so well in politics on the ice as a pioneering force in women’s hockey.

As a young woman working in Montreal in 1940, Hazel McCallion had a brief professional career, getting paid $5 a game and, after moving to Ontario, spent decades on sports body boards and in volunteer positions working to elevate the women’s game to world-class status while pushing for it to be included in the Olympics, which happened at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

Otto Jelinek

A long, hard, strange trip it’s been for the athlete turned politician turned diplomat who, along with his sister, Maria, was one of the first brilliant Canadian figure skating pairs.

His family fled Czechoslovakia when the communist takeover nationalized his father’s business in 1948, eventually settling Canada.

He and Maria took the skating world by storm, winning the 1961 world championships and finishing fourth at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.

It was a solid impact on the sporting fabric of the country but not his last one. Jelinek not only served as an MP but he was Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport, the minister responsible for multiculturalism, before the circle was completed in 2013, when he was named ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Margaret and Ron Southern

Inductee Ron Southern, cracks jokes while his wife, and fellow inductee, Margaret Southern fixes the flower on his tuxedo lapel.
Inductee Ron Southern, cracks jokes while his wife, and fellow inductee, Margaret Southern fixes the flower on his tuxedo lapel.  (Peter Power)  

Margaret Southern was a talented athlete and the first female instructor in the Faculty of Physical Education at the University of Calgary, but it’s in the equestrian sport of show jumping where she’s had the biggest impact.

In the early 1970s, Margaret and her husband Ron, a successful businessman, set out to put Calgary on the map in show jumping. They transformed a tired feed lot on the outskirts of the city into an equestrian complex that quickly gained a worldwide reputation for its quality and atmosphere.

Once called “an unlikely facility in an unlikely place” it has hosted royal visits, offered million-dollar prize purses and remains one of the preeminent show-jumping stops on the international circuit.

Jennifer Heil

Jennifer Heil is awarded her silver medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Jennifer Heil is awarded her silver medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.  (Steve Russell)  

At the 2006 Turin Olympics, Jennifer Heil raced through moguls and soared into a backflip iron cross before landing to finish in gold-medal time. It was Canada’s first medal of those Games and the first-ever Olympic medal for a Canadian woman in moguls skiing.

On home soil at the 2010 Vancouver Games she earned another medal, silver, then won the overall World Cup title and, the following year, swept the moguls events at the world championships before retiring.

To make all that happened — there were points in her career when her body was so broken-down she could barely get into her ski boots — required a team of doctors, physiotherapists and trainers. Heil wanted other athletes to have access to the kind of support that had made her 2006 gold possible and so she helped develop B2ten, an initiative that provides a collection of summer and winter athletes with the extensive customized support they need to have their best chance at medal success.

Glenroy Gilbert

Glenroy Gilbert started out as a sprinter, but took that speed to the bobsled track.
Glenroy Gilbert started out as a sprinter, but took that speed to the bobsled track.  (Frank Gunn)  

A man who likes speed, whether it’s sprinting on the track or pushing a bobsled down an icy chute, Glenroy Gilbert wore Team Canada’s uniform at five Olympic Games, from 1988 through 2000, in two different sports.

He’s best known for being a member of Canada’s most famous relay team — with Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin, Robert Esmie and alternate Carlton Chambers — that won Olympic gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games and helped restore Canada’s reputation for sprinting excellence.

But Gilbert was also the first Canadian of such sprinting calibre to make the transition to pushing a bobsled in the Winter Olympics. In the 1994 Lillehammer Games, Gilbert, on pilot Christopher Lori’s team finished 11th in four-man and 15th in the two-man event.

Ken Dryden

In fairness, the 70s-era Montreal Canadiens didn't really leave a lot for Ken Dryden to do.
In fairness, the 70s-era Montreal Canadiens didn't really leave a lot for Ken Dryden to do.  (The Canadian Press Photo Archive)  

One of the great images of recent Canadian sports history could best be described as “an athlete in repose” with goalie Ken Dryden, a giant compared to the size of some his contemporaries, casually leaning on his stick, arms crossed, almost pensive, watching the game unfold.

And it’s true that he was a more cerebral athlete than some — lawyer, businessman, eventually a best-selling author — and one of the best to ever play the position.

Consider: With only six regular season games of experience, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s best playoff performer in 1971, a year before he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of year.

He later spent seven years as an MP, serving from 2004 to 2011; his book, The Game, was a critical success and a commercial best-seller, short-listed for the 1983 Governor General’s Award.

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