NOTICE – The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame will be closed to the public from Wednesday, Jan. 19 to Friday, Jan. 21 as we install our new Winter Olympic exhibit. That new exhibit will open on Saturday, Jan. 22 at noon. We apologize for the inconvenience.
There have always been strong ties between the sporting world and military service. Amongst the inductees of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (SSHF), that is no different.
To date, the SSHF has found 124 inductees who have served in branches of the Armed Forces. While they all share the commonality of sporting excellence and service, each of their stories is unique.
Alex Decoteau (image courtesy of the Edmonton Police Service)
Alex Decoteau was the first Saskatchewan-born athlete to compete in the Olympics. After competing in the 5,000-metre run at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games, Decoteau — who was also Canada’s first Indigenous police officer — enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War in 1916. He was killed in action in the Second Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium on October 30, 1917, when he was shot by a sniper. Pvt. Decoteau put his athletic prowess to use during the war, serving as a communications trench runner.
In addition to Decoteau, SSHF inductees Edward Lyman “Hick” Abbott, Ernest “Ossie” Herlen, and Harry McKenzie from the 1915 Melville Millionaires were all Killed in Action. SSHF inductees Claude Warwick and James Bladon from the 1941 Regina Rangers were Killed in Service.
Some SSHF inductees saw their military service mix with their athletic pursuits. Julien Audette served in the Royal Canadian Air Force before being inducted in the sport of soaring (the sport of non-powered flight). Shooting inductees Joseph Austman, Jim Girgulis, Peter Jmaeff, and Ron Woolgar all served in the military.
Stanley “Cap” Harrison came from England and began Stockwell Stud Farm in Fort Qu’Appelle. When the First World War broke out, he was tasked with selecting and shipping western horses suitably for cavalry purposes. Harrison was well-suited to the task but sending stock to face almost certain death while he was safe at home. In 1916, Harrison left his brother to run the farm and enlisted in the Winnipeg Light Infantry Battalion. He was wounded three times and was once buried in rubble and feared dead. Harrison would survive the war and become a key figure in the growth of horse racing in the prairies. During the war, Harrison also wrote poetry which was later compiled by Grant MacEwan entitled, The Rhyming Horseman of the Qu’Appelle.
It wasn’t just our male inductees who answered the call to serve. Moose Jaw’s Phyllis Dewar won four gold medals swimming at the 1934 British Empire Games (the forerunner to the Commonwealth Games). She competed at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games and won another gold medal at the 1938 British Empire Games. Dewar enlisted with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) where she was stationed in Halifax. The WRCNS was formed in 1942 and featured more than 7,000 enlisted members during the Second World War. Their duties included wireless telegraphists, radar plotters, weapons analysts, range assessors, electricians, air mechanics, clerks, and cooks.
While the list of inductees with military service covers a broad range of sports, hockey has the most representation with 48 SSHF hockey inductees having served in the military.
Included amongst those were five players — Sid Abel, Max Bentley, Johnny Bower, Chuck Rayner, and Harry Watson — who would go on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as well earning their place amongst the game’s all-time greats. Abel, Bentley, Rayner and Watson had all begun their National Hockey League careers when they enlisted during the Second World War. As a teenager in Prince Albert, Bower was part of the local army reserve unit. At 15 he lied about his age to enlist and spent two years in Vernon, B.C. completing his training before being deployed as a gunner with the 2nd Canadian Division with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Days before the Dieppe Raid in 1942, Bower and eight other members of his unit came down with a respiratory infection that cause them to miss the raid and may have saved their lives.
While the majority of the SSHF inductees who served did so during the First and Second World Wars or the Korean War, Ed Staniowski is a more recent example of an athlete who served in the Canadian Forces.
Lt.-Col Ed Staniowski, a Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame inductee looks at some of the items on display at Play Hard, Fight Hard: Sport and the Canadian Military.
Staniowski starred in goal on the Regina Pats 1974 Memorial Cup-winning team and went on to play 10 seasons in the National Hockey League with St. Louis, Winnipeg and Hartford. After retiring from the NHL, Staniowski served in the Canadian Forces and reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the primary reserves. Staniowski was deployed in eight overseas operations during his 29 years in the Forces.
Below is a list of the 124 SSHF inductees that served their country in the Canadian Forces. Their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten:
Prairie Pride was created by Curator Bryann Seib and went on display when the SSHF re-opened on September 2, 2020. After the Hall of Fame closed to the public in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the province, a virtual tour was created by Seib and Communications Coordinator Matthew Gourlie in partnership with White Rabbit VR in Regina to enhance the physical exhibit with additional content.
Having the new exhibit has provided crucial content for Education Coordinator Vickie Krauss to facilitate her Virtual Field Trip program that has helped bring the SSHF into schools virtually during the pandemic.
“We are thrilled to have Prairie Pride recognized with an ISHY, particularly because it is a peer-reviewed award. Being recognized by our colleagues who represent the best the world has to offer in our industry is extremely gratifying,” said SSHF Executive Director Sheila Kelly. “I am incredibly proud of the entire SSHF staffing team who all responded so enthusiastically to Bryann’s first feature exhibit as curator and utilized its maximum potential in our programming and communications in what has been a most challenging year. I hope that people take the opportunity to see Prairie Pride in person before its exhibit run ends on November 24.”
Prairie Pride also won the Canadian Association for Sports Heritage (CASH) Award of Excellence in June.
The SSHF was one of four ISHA members who were honoured with ISHYs for their new exhibits created in the past year. Northern Light Productions’ installation at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, and The Museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame were also honoured.
The 2021 ISHA Conference was held virtually and hosted by the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.
This is the fourth time, the SSHF has been honoured with an ISHY Award. In 2011, the SSHF received the ISHA Communications Award for Building Pride: Saskatchewan Roughriders Centennial Exhibitions created in conjunction with the Dunlop Art Gallery. In 2014, the SSHF received the ISHA Communications Award for the SSHF website. Most recently in 2015, the SSHF was honoured with the ISHA Communications Award for The Spirit of ’89: Memories from the 1989 Jeux Canada Summer Games written by Ned Powers and published through the Sport History Project Grant.
ISHA is comprised of more than 130 institutions located in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. In addition, various corporations and individuals participate in and contribute to the growth of ISHA as associate members.
The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame recently digitized colour footage of the first Labour Day Classic between the Regina Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on September 5, 1949.
Regina Roughriders president Stack Tibbits addresses the crowd at Taylor Field before the first Labour Day Classic in 1949.
While the game footage is incomplete, we wanted to share a few clips to get a taste of what Labour Day was like 72 years ago when the Roughriders’ played their home opener on the holiday Monday to a record-breaking gathering of 7,500 at Taylor Field.
The Roughriders opened the season with a 13-8 loss in Winnipeg the week before but would prevail 20-0 over their Manitoba rivals in this first Labour Day clash between the two teams.
The Riders (or the ‘Ruffs’ as the Regina Leader-Post called them at the time) would post a 9-5 record in Western Interprovincial Football Union play. They lost the first game of the two-legged final 18-12 to Calgary at Taylor Field. The Riders would win the second game on Remembrance Day in Calgary 9-4, but the Stampeders would advance to the Grey Cup with a cumulative one-point win.
In this clip, Sammy Pierce for the Roughriders (who are wearing white at home and were in their second season wearing green and white) breaks off a 12-yard run and a cloud of dust to get the Riders deep into Winnipeg territory. Pierce was a halfback from Vernon, Texas who went to Baylor. He led the Riders in 1949 with nine touchdowns in his rookie season. He would spend two years with the green and white.
Pierce’s backfield mates are No. 55 Del Wardlien and No. 88 Ken Charlton. Despite their unusual numbers, the two halfbacks would enjoy long careers with the Riders. Wardlien, who was from Great Falls, Montana, spent seven years in Regina from 1948-54. He had eight touchdowns in 1949.
Charlton was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1992. The Regina-born back attended Central Collegiate, and also played for the Regina West-Ends and the Regina Dales junior team. He played with the Riders in 1941 being named an all-star in his rookie season. Charlton joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was stationed in Winnipeg so he joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their quest for the Grey Cup. He returned to the Riders in 1943 before spending two seasons in Ottawa prior to returning to Saskatchewan for good.
In this second clip, Charlton crashed through the middle for a three-yard run. He isn’t the only SSHF member in the game. SSHF inductee Paul Dojack is also one of the four officials in the game and is listed as the judge-of-play.
The final clip features Roughriders quarterback Doug Belden stepping out of bounds — but continuing to run — before being hammered by a Blue Bomber into touch. Belden was with the Roughriders for two seasons – 1949 and 1952 – and played many collegiate sports at school with the Florida Gators and is in the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a ‘Gator Great’.
In this clip, the grey house on Ninth Avenue in the north end zone (which became the Youth Unlimited building) is visible looking nearly the same as it would for the next 65-plus years of Riders’ football.
In this footage, the Riders are running the T formation offence, one of the great early offences that features three running backs in a line behind the quarterback. Invented by Walter Camp in 1882 the T Formation had started to go out of vogue by 1949 as more teams looked to throw the ball more often. The Riders had opted for a more “modern” approach in Winnipeg but went back the T formation to great effect. George Hallas and the Chicago Bears used it to power to a 73-0 win in the 1940 NFL Championship Game and it is so associated with Bears football that it is referenced in their fight song. The University of Oklahoma won three straight American college football championships by using the T formation in the 1950s.
This footage is part of a series of reels of 16-mm film that was recently digitized by Bird Films in Regina. We would like to thank the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Heritage Organizations and Bird Films in Regina for their cooperation and support to allow us to make this footage more accessible.
There is close to 15 minutes of footage from the 1949 game. In addition, some footage from the 1951 Grey Cup has also been digitized. The Riders lost that game 21-14 to the Ottawa Rough Riders.
The official Grey Cup highlight films from 1966, 1967, 1969, and 1972 have also digitized as part of our permanent collection.
We look forward to welcoming you back to the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (SSHF) starting on July 5. Before you come, please read the following so you can plan your visit with us.
Please access our online booking system to secure your timed entry prior to visiting. A maximum of 15 people can be in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame at any given time. We would appreciate it if you did not arrive more than five minutes before your allotted time and no more than 10 minutes after your scheduled arrival time.
Once you have arrived at the building, please enter the main front doors into the vestibule. At the scheduled time you will be met at the doors by SSHF staff who will guide you into the Hall of Fame. We will be happy to welcome you and answer any questions you may have.
The SSHF has implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures to keep you safe during your visit. You can learn more about them here.
In addition to enhanced cleaning, we will also be confirming our visitor’s names and a phone number. Your information will not be used for promotional purposes and will only be shared with the Saskatchewan Health Authority should they request it.
Effective Friday, October 1, 2021, as per the Government of Saskatchewan’s Public Health Measures, the SSHF is obliged to ask all visitors for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test received within 72 hours of their visit. This policy applies to all visitors 12 and older, with no exceptions.
For more on this policy, including accepted proof of vaccination, please click here.
As long as it remains mandated by provincial health guidelines, all visitors who are over the age of three are required to wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth at all times while inside the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. All SSHF staff will also be wearing masks for your added safety and peace of mind. If you do not have a mask, they are available on site.
Inside the SSHF galleries, socially distant directional guest flow must be obeyed during your visit. Please follow the directional decals on the floor and stay to the right. We require guests to keep two metres (or six feet) between themselves and anyone else who is not part of their group. We ask that you be patient and wait for others to move forward as required to respect proper distancing.
We would also ask that you please keep your group together and your children within your reach at all times. Groups of six or more may be asked to split into smaller groups.
You can find more information on what exhibits and features are currently open and available here.
As always, food and drink are not permitted inside the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.
While we have washrooms onsite, we would appreciate your understanding in trying to use the washroom before your visit if possible.
Visitors who are not able to commit to the above protocols should please choose to postpone their visit to a later date.
September 30, 2021, marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The federal holiday was created to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.
In the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 87th Call to Action, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame wants to honour this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by recalling and celebrating Indigenous excellence and achievement in sport in our province and sharingsome of the hardships and challenges those athletes and builders faced. At the same time, we also want to honour and remember all those residential school survivors — though particularly our inductees — as part of this first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
We also want to share other resources that chronicle the stories and achievements of some of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous sporting legends.
While the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a time to learn and reflect on both the history and ongoing impacts of residential schools, the work of reconciliation is continuous.
To that end, the SSHF wants to continue to preserve and share the history of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous athletes. The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame has a display case and video kiosk celebrating Saskatchewan Indigenous athletes and their achievements on permanent display in the Physical Activity Complex at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Kinesiology in Saskatoon.
Our nomination process is open to the public and if you believe you know of an athlete, builder or team that deserves inclusion into the Hall of Fame we invite you to nominate them. You can learn more about that process here.
Colette Bourgonje is a member of the SSHF’s 2021 Induction Class and has appeared at 10 Paralympic Games – both Winter and Summer — and has 10 Paralympic medals. While we look forward to being able to announce her induction date, we were pleased to have Colette be part of our Never Give Up program. Colette, who is of Métis ancestry and grew up in Porcupine Plain, shared her inspiring story with school children across the province through a virtual presentation.
Fred Sasakamoose, left, talks with Chicago Blackhawks captain Alexei Zhamnov after a ceremonial face-off.
Fred Sasakamoose was born on Christmas Day, 1933 in the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation. When he was six years old, he and his brother Frank were taken from their parents by Indian agents from the Canadian government and driven with 30 other children to the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake more than 100 kilometres away.
Saskamoose found a love of hockey at the residential school and one of the priests, Father Georges Roussel, helped hone his skill. He also suffered horrible abuse and recounted being raped as a young boy during a Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s community hearing in Prince Albert.
Despite what he suffered through as a child, Sasakamoose excelled as a hockey player and reached the National Hockey League as a 19-year-old in 1953 with the Chicago Black Hawks. In doing so, Sasakamoose became the first Indigenous person with Treaty status to play in the NHL.
Sasakamoose would spend 35 years as a Band Councillor of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, six as Chief. He worked to give back to his community and build and develop minor hockey and other sports there.
And I hope by sharing my story now, non-Indigenous readers might have a better understanding of the hurdles we have to overcome to succeed.
I hope by telling my people about the vision of my grandfather Alexan, they will see how their own belief in the future can strengthen those around them.
I hope by telling them about the friendship of men like Ray, like Dave, like Jerry, about the selflessness and generosity of people like George, they will see that there is goodness in the outside world too.
And finally, I hope my story reminds my people that while it might not be a world made for us, it’s a world we can make better by being proud of who we are and where we come from.
— Fred Sasakamoose, excerpt from Call Me Indian.
Bryan Trottier, six-time Stanley Cup champion and one of the greatest hockey players to ever come out of Saskatchewan, penned a first-person essay on his experiences as an Indigenous hockey player.
SSHF inductees like Sasakamoose, Tony Cote, David Greyeyes and Claude Petit also made considerable contributions to their communities after their sporting careers were over.
Cote was a residential school survivor and was instrumental in creating the Saskatchewan First Nations Summer and Winter Games in 1974 which are now known as the Tony Cote Summer and Winter Games. He was also elected Chief of Cote First Nation in 1970 and created numerous athletic opportunities for Indigenous youth while also dedicating his time to coaching.
Petit founded the Western Canadian Native Minor Hockey Championships and was a boxing coach, referee and administrator after he hung up his gloves after an impressive career. As a boxer, Petit was a five-time Canadian Army heavyweight boxing champion and the only Canadian to win the British Army Heavyweight Boxing Championship.
Greyeyes is also a residential school survivor who became a Lieutenant in the Canadian Army during the Second World War and was one of the best soccer players in the province during his career, representing Saskatchewan in games against some of the best teams from England. After his athletic career, he became a public servant and became the first Indigenous person to be a director of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
Petit, Sasakamoose and Greyeyes each became a member of the Order of Canada. Petit, Greyeyes and Cote also received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit for their contributions to their communities and all three were also veterans who served in the Canadian Armed Forces.
In addition to the individual Indigenous inductees, the SSHF also has inductees who were members of an inducted team.
One of those is Kenneth Moore who was inducted as a member of the 1930 Regina Pats hockey team that won the Memorial Cup. Moore is also the first Indigenous athlete to win an Olympic gold medal.
Moore was from the Peepeekisis First Nation and was the third of eight kids born in 1910. One biographer reports that Moore’s two older brothers died while attending a Residential School. Following that tragedy, the family moved from Balcarres to Regina.
A gifted multi-sport athlete, he starred as a right winger on the Regina Pats junior hockey team. In 1930, the Pats met the West Toronto Nationals in the national junior final. The Pats won the first game 3-1 and after trailing 2-0 in Game 2, “Smiling” Ken Moore – as the Regina Leader-Post described him – took a pass in the slot and slid it home with 40 seconds left in the third period to give the Pats a 3-2 and their third Memorial Cup in six years. He also attended Campion College and Regina College on a scholarship where he captained the hockey and rugby teams.
He joined the Winnipeg Hockey Club and they would go on to beat the Hamilton Tigers in two straight games to claim the 1931 Allan Cup, the national amateur hockey championship. As Allan Cup champions, Winnipeg also earned the right to represent Canada at the 1932 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. Canada won five games and tied one to earn their fourth straight Olympic gold medal in hockey. Moore scored one goal in the tournament as Canada won Olympic gold.
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame recently launched their Indigenous Heroes educational website that features Boungonje, Decoteau and Trottier and many other Canadian Indigenous sporting legends.
These are but a few of the many stories of both Indigenous athletes in Saskatchewan and also the experience of residential school survivors.
Following the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School at the current site of Cowessess First Nation — along with seven other sites in Canada to date — the importance of learning about the history and impact of residential schools has only increased.
The staff at the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame acknowledges the impact and enduring legacy of the residential school system in Canada. Today we reflect on that history, but each day we are dedicated to listening to and learning from the First Nations as we commit to moving towards reconciliation.
To that end, here are some other useful resources to learn more about the history of the residential school system and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame is located on Treaty 4 land which is situated on the territory of the Anihšināpēk (Saulteaux), Dakota, Lakota, Nakota (Assiniboine), Nêhiyawak (Cree), and the homeland of the Métis Nation.
The SSHF’s mandate is to share the sport history of the land that is also located on Treaties 2, 5, 6, 8 and 10 territory. Those territories are also the traditional lands of the Anihšināpēk (Saulteaux), Dakota, Denesuline (Dene/Chipewyan), Lakota, Nakota (Assiniboine), Nêhiyawak (Cree), and the homeland of the Métis Nation.
Effective Friday, October 1, 2021, as per the Government of Saskatchewan’s Public Health Measures, the SSHF is obliged to ask all visitors for proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test received within 72 hours of their visit. This policy applies to all visitors 12 and older, with no exceptions.
Acceptable proof of vaccination includes:
Complete COVID-19 vaccination record in a printed or electronic format from eHealth Saskatchewan with a QR code,
Your eHealth Saskatchewan QR Code on a mobile phone,
Your printed eHealth Saskatchewan QR Code,
Or the wallet card you received at the time of immunization. Photo identification will also be required to match the guest to their proof of vaccination. Vaccinated youths between the ages of 12 and 17 do not need to show ID if accompanied by a vaccinated adult.
Acceptable documentation for a negative test result includes a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or a rapid antigen test provided by a certified healthcare provider from within the previous 72 hours. A list of locations and labs offering testing services is available here. Self-administered take-home rapid antigen tests (e.g. pictures of negative tests) will not be accepted as valid proof of negative COVID-19 test results.
Anyone declining to provide either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will be denied entry to the Hall of Fame.
Children under the age of 12 are exempt from the proof of vaccination or negative test requirement. If the attending adult cannot meet the vaccine/negative test requirement any children under 12 would also be denied entry.
As has been our policy since re-opening, all visitors must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth while inside the Hall of Fame.
We thank our visitors for their patience and understanding as we navigate these changes and we thank you for your patronage.
The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (SSHF) is excited to be part of a new program from Variety – the Children’s Charity.
They have provided the SSHF with two sensory backpacks which support families who have children living with sensory processing disabilities (i.e. autism). The backpacks feature a set of noise-reducing headphones, a weighted stuffed animal/blanket, tactile toys, and books. These items give kids a toolkit of resources to pull from while out in the community.
Both backpacks are available to be signed out by visitors to use during their visit to the Hall of Fame before returning them at the conclusion of their visit. All of the items will be sanitized after use so they are ready to be used again safely in the future.
Variety – the Children’s Charity began their sensory backpack program in the fall of 2020 in Calgary and the SSHF is very pleased to be part of this initiative.
Do you get caught up in the excitement of the Olympics or a World Cup? Cheering on Canada, Saskatchewan, or the Roughriders? Maybe it’s a child’s activities or whatever seasonal sport is available for viewing. Sport, whether as a spectator or a participant, generates a lot of excitement and emotion.
Since 1966, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (SSHF) has played an instrumental role in preserving, recognizing and educating the public on the tremendous sports heritage of our province. We are privileged to be able to share the stories – the thrill of victory, the disappointment of defeat, and the pride associated with these accomplishments – with Saskatchewan residents and visitors alike. We strive to bring history alive.
The SSHF is looking for some individuals across the province who share our passion for sport, past and present, who are looking for an engaging volunteer experience, and are keen to contribute and serve. Our operations support a variety of opportunities and we are currently recruiting volunteers for committees, programming initiatives, and the Board of Directors.
The SSHF is committed to providing the people of Saskatchewan a self-sustaining, dynamic attraction designed to preserve, interpret, recognize and honour the diverse sport history of the province. If the opportunity to get involved appeals to you please indicate your interest in serving and the Governance Committee will be in touch to continue the dialogue.
Our volunteer enrollment form is available here. Please email us at [email protected] or telephone 306-780-9232 to express your interest.
Hello! Welcome to our Creating Active Champions games page. Each weekday during our Creating Active Champions program from July 5 to August 20, 2021, we will post a new colouring page, game or puzzle. The newest game will be at the top of this page each day and if you missed a day, you can just scroll down to find it.
We invite you to join us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/SaskSportsHF) at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to take part in the fun of Creating Active Champions!
The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame’s new STEM Interactive Gallery sponsored by SaskTel is now available to explore as a virtual tour.
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Interactive Gallery features a series of “how-to” and “experimental” videos related to each aspect of STEM and is tailored towards visitors between 4-16 years of age. This gallery and virtual tour promotes activities that can be easily done at home while learning about the connection of sport to science, technology, engineering, and math.
Visitors to the STEM Interactive Gallery can test their vertical jump, their balance, their strength, their standing long jump, their flexibility, and their grip strength while also learning about some of the ways Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are changing the sporting world.
STEM has been a growing field in schools for many years. While these topics can feel sedentary, the STEM Interactive Gallery allows students to mix learning with physical activity.
The STEM Interactive Gallery also helps bring some of the accomplishments of our SSHF inductees to life through to-scale measurements.
The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame gratefully thanks the SaskTel Community Investment Program for their sponsorship of the STEM Interactive Gallery virtual tour.
The summer of 2020 has featured numerous postponements and cancellations across the sporting world — none bigger than the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics which were pushed back a year.
At the same time, the nexus of sports and politics has intersected at a level that has rarely been seen before.
Forty years ago, however, Saskatoon’s Diane Jones Konihowski experienced both political fallout and the loss of a chance to compete at the Olympics at the same time when she became the centre of controversy after speaking out following Canada’s decision to join the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games.
Jones Konihowski was one of the faces of amateur sport in Canada and had the endorsements, commercials and name recognition that came with it. That public goodwill evaporated seemingly overnight following her criticisms of the boycott at the height of the Cold War which led to hate mail and death threats directed at her, along with her family and friends.
“I was the only one speaking out against it, everyone else got sucked in,” Jones Konihowski said recently from her home in Calgary.
Diane Jones Konihowski speaking at her 1980 SSHF induction ceremony.
For Jones Konihowski, it would have been her third Games competing as a pentathlete, but it also constituted her last — and best — shot at an Olympic medal.
“I was alone in speaking out as far as I remember. It was easy for me to speak out because I was out of the country and I wasn’t being brainwashed. I could think very, very clearly and look at the scenario and think ‘this is very wrong on so many levels.’ I was able to articulate that. It took many years before people would come to me and say, ‘you know you were right,’” Jones Konihowski said. “To this day — and it was 40 years ago — people still come up to me and say that was so wrong at that time. Nobody had the guts. I can’t remember anyone else chastising the Canadian Olympic Association for their decision.
“It’s interesting this year that we were the first in the world to say that we’re not going (to the Tokyo Olympics) because of COVID. We led the world in saying it’s not safe to go. Then Australia fell in and Great Britain came and then the Games were postponed.”
Jones Konihowski was raised in Saskatoon and attended Aden Bowman Collegiate and the University of Saskatchewan where she excelled in track and field and also as a volleyball player with the Huskies. An exceptional all-around athlete, she was also a promising gymnast in her youth and was coached by Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame inductee Chuck Sebestyen before she out-grew the sport.
“Looking back I really lucked out with some amazing Phys. Ed. teachers and sport coaches. They just motivated me to love what I was doing,” Jones Konihowksi said. “Two of my coaches were Olympic coaches. Bob Adams was my first coach in track and field and he was obviously an Olympic decathlete and he was one of the Olympic coaches in 1964. Chuck Sebestyen, one of my gymnastic coaches, was also (an Olympic) gymnastics coach in 1964.
“I just lucked-out meeting all of these people in my life. They were there for me to really nurture and push me to be a better athlete.”
Having excelled at multiple sports and being naturally competitive, it only made sense that Jones Konihowski would excel at the pentathlon which featured five events: shot put, high jump, long jump, the 200-metre run and the 100m hurdles.
She was 21 years old when she made her Olympic debut in Berlin where she finished in a very respectable 10th place.
“It was fabulous. There’s nothing like the Olympic Games. I don’t care what anyone else says,” Jones Konihowski said.
The joy of her first Olympics turned tragic when 11 members of the Israeli delegation were kidnapped from the Olympic Village, held hostage and ultimately killed by terrorists.
Jones Konihowski had just completed competition on September 5 when the pre-dawn attack occurred and was headed into the city with fellow Canadian track athlete Joyce Sadowick to meet up with another Canadian to do some sightseeing. When they woke up in the early hours there was already an eerie silence in the Athletes Village that tipped them off that something was wrong. As soon as they left the Village they were swarmed by reporters looking for information on the breaking story.
Diane Jones Konihowski competing in the high jump while at the University of Saskatchewan. photo courtesy the University of Saskatchewan.
“For me, I was touched by it because the day before I was training in hurdles with Esther Roth, who was a hurdler from Israel, and after training we went to lunch and she said ‘why don’t you come over and have lunch with us.’ So I had lunch with a bunch of wrestlers and basically, all of those guys were dead the next day,” Jones Konihowski said.
Despite being an Olympic pentathlete, Jones Konihowski was also still playing volleyball at the U of S, but a serious ankle injury at the end of the volleyball season required surgery and hurt her chances at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand where she finished sixth.
Fully healthy, she won the pentathlon gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games in Mexico City and expectations were high coming home for the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
She had an endorsement deal with Canadian apparel company Penmans and appeared in commercials with Montreal Expos star Gary Carter, Olympic skier Nancy Greene, and hockey broadcaster Howie Meeker.
“Montreal was a huge learning experience. Because I was a media darling, they loved me all through the 70s — I was tall, long legs, long blonde hair and I was successful — I got a lot of media attention,” Jones Konihowski said.
Jones Konihowski was training in Santa Barbra, California in the lead-up to the ’76 Games, but was back in Canada every other weekend promoting the Games. She did a cross-country tour as the “coin girl” with André Ouellet, the Postmaster General at the time. Even when she arrived in Montreal, she was already kicking herself for disrupting her training schedule so significantly.
“The frustrating thing for me in ’76 was I could have got a medal. All the way through the competition I’m just thinking ‘damnit, if I was really at my peak I really could have got a medal,’” said Jones Konihowski who finished sixth in the pentathlon and also seventh in the long jump.
“I came out of Montreal really ticked off because I blew it. I realistically could have got an Olympic medal, but you learn. At the end of the day, it’s not about the hardware. I’ve always said that. We only learn from those times when you fail, you underperform and put in a disappointing performance. It’s the only time you learn. You don’t learn from your successes.”
She competed under her maiden name as Diane Jones in ’72 and ’76 but married fellow SSHF member and former Huskies track athlete John Konihowski in 1977 while he was a member of the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos. While making Edmonton their home, the 1978 Commonwealth Games would be in the Alberta capital and once again Jones Konihowski would be one of the faces of the event. She was the Queen’s Baton Final Runner – the Commonwealth Games equivalent to being the torchbearer at the opening ceremonies. However, nothing was going to distract Jones Konihowski from her goal. She won the pentathlon in a games record score. A year later she repeated as Pan American Games champion in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“Going into ’78 – Edmonton, hometown, really important to do well – I just said a lot of no’s. I didn’t get caught up in that and I did very well. Not only did I win the gold medal in Edmonton, but more importantly it was with a score that put me No. 1 in the world,” she said. “That told me that I’m on track to get on the podium in Moscow, two years later. I was very, very focused.
“(The Pan American Games) was a really good performance — Canadian record, Pan American Games record, the whole bit — so I thought OK good, we’re right on track here.”
Diane Jones Konihowski
Still, she wanted to ensure she was free of distractions. Years earlier she had invited Karen Page, a pentathlete from New Zealand, to come up to Saskatoon to train with her coach at the U of S, Lyle Sanderson (who is also an SSHF inductee). After spending Christmas of 1979 at home, Diane, John, and Sanderson and his family all moved down to Auckland, New Zealand to train with Page and get laser-focused on Moscow with no distractions.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979 to start the Soviet-Afghan War and in January of 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter threatened to boycott the Moscow Olympics is the Soviets didn’t pull out of Afghanistan by February 20, 1980. Later that month, Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark also threatened a boycott. Not coincidentally, the Lake Placid Winter Olympics would take place in February of 1980 with the Soviets competing in the U.S. Those Games concluded four days after Carter’s ultimatum.
On April 22, 1980 – a date Jones Konihowski can recall with ease – with the U.S. State Secretary due in Ottawa the next day, the new Pierre Trudeau government formally backed the boycott.
In New Zealand, Jones Konihowski found out that her Olympic medal dream was dashed when a reporter at an Edmonton radio station called her. She didn’t hold back in criticizing the decision.
“I was very disappointed when I got the call on April 23,” Jones Konihowski said. “Of course I had not watched any media from back home, I had not read a thing. So I was clear-headed and not brainwashed.
“I was saying it was wrong on a number of levels. One, it’s no surprise to world leaders that Russia has invaded Afghanistan, come on, give me a break here. We’re still sending wheat to Russia; we’re still trading with them. President Carter could have made a much stronger statement to Russia by denying them to come to his Games in February, but he waited until the end of their Games to announce a summer boycott. That’s wrong. On all levels, it’s wrong.”
The boycott ended up being widespread, but at different levels of involvement. China, Japan and West Germany were also among the countries that didn’t send any athletes. Some western nations sent smaller squads and some individual athletes opted not to compete. Some nations — France, Spain, and Italy notably — attended but competed under the Olympic flag and did not attend the opening ceremonies.
“My greatest disappointment is really that the Canadian Olympic Association at that time went with the government’s decision,” Jones Konihowski said. “I can see the government following Carter. That’s OK. But the Canadian Olympic Association I felt let down the athletes and coaches by following suit and declaring that they were going to stay home as well. Meanwhile Iron Lady (Margaret) Thatcher said no and the British Olympic Association said ‘we’re going.’ So they went. If you can say no to Iron Lady Thatcher, why can’t we say no to Pierre Trudeau?”
Back home, Jones Konihowski’s comments were not well received. To put it mildly.
“My mom was phoning me ‘Oh my God, everyone is calling you a Communist. Can you shut up.’ All of that kind of stuff,” she said. “The two girls in our apartment in Edmonton were getting horrible phone calls. So we basically told them to not answer the phone.
“Even Karen in New Zealand was getting bomb threats, her parents were going nuts.
“It was a really, really crazy time. Canadians mostly love to complain, but they never act on it. It was a really contentious time.”
Jones Konihowski also quickly got a call from her sponsor in Toronto.
“They said ‘Unless you retract what you’re saying, I can’t support you any longer,’” she recalled. “I said ‘You know Jamie, that’s fine. Put your money with another athlete, but I really believe strongly in this. This is wrong. This has nothing to do with Russia invading Afghanistan. Do you think Russia is going to pull out?’”
They returned to Canada in May and the mood of her detractors hadn’t calmed any.
“John didn’t let me read any of the hate mail. And there was a lot of it,” Jones Konihowski recalled. “The Edmonton Eskimos, their lines were ringing off the hook, ‘how can you hire the husband of a Communist?’ John got it on the football field as well. He was called a ‘Commie’, which is interesting. (Edmonton head coach) Hugh Campbell stood up for me. The Edmonton Eskimos organization supported me, which was good, and John, which was awesome.
“I got a few positive letters, but in the media, I was lambasted by many of my friends. It was a really difficult time. I still felt so strongly that it was so wrong. It made no sense that we would be punished for something that is so political.”
Four-time Canadian Olympian Abby Hoffman — Canada’s flag-bearer in Montreal — was a member of the executive council of the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), track and field’s governing body, and reached out to Jones Konihowski.
“She phoned me and said: ‘I have an invitation for you from the Russian organizing committee to come to the Games,’” Jones Konihowski said. “I didn’t ask her, but I assume that the invitation would have been extended to other athletes and not just me. I said ‘oh Abby, I have to think about this. You wouldn’t believe the death threats we’re getting.’
“I turned it down. I really thought that I wouldn’t get out of this country alive. I kind of feared for my family a little bit. My mom and dad didn’t deserve that. John and the Edmonton Eskimos certainly didn’t deserve that.”
Jones Konihowski instead competed in the Liberty Bell Classic, a track and field event in Philadelphia for athletes who boycotted the Games. She won the pentathlon with ease, but it was cold comfort with the real Games kicking off in Moscow days later.
Soviet athletes swept the medals in the pentathlon with Nadiya Tkachenko — fresh off an 18-month ban after testing positive for steroids — setting a world record in the process.
Two weeks later at the first post-Olympic competition in Germany, Jones Konihowski beat all three Moscow medalists.
1980 Summer Olympics pentathlon champion Nadezhda Tkachenko competing in the shot put portion of the pentathlon at Moscow’s Lenin Stadium. RIA Novosti archive, image #399455 / Yuriy Somov / CC-BY-SA 3.0
“Tkachenko was a druggy and you knew that they weren’t going to test positive at their Games. There was no way,” Jones Konihowski said. “Without (American Jane Frederick) and I there, there was no competition really in the pentathlon and the three Russians won it. I don’t even know what they scored, but it was brutal. Then two weeks later in Germany, I blew them out of the water. They were off their drugs, clearly, and they were just sucking eggs two weeks after the Olympic Games. I’m sorry, that doesn’t sit well with me.”
Tkachenko had finished one place ahead of Jones Konihowski in Berlin and again in Montreal as they continued to improve. Both times Frederick was behind them and in Montreal finished fifth-sixth-seventh. Jones Konihowski hoped that four years on, she, Tkachenko and Frederick would all move up the standings together to share the medals.
“So my dream was that our third and final Olympics… you’d go from 9-10-11 to 5-6-7 to 1-2-3. That was sort of my dream that that was how it would come out,” she said. “It would have been a beautiful story.”
There would be no storybook ending to Jones Konihowski’s great career as she retired in 1983.
“It was maybe six or seven years later that I started wondering what would have happened if I had gone,” Jones Konihowski said.
Twenty years after her criticism of the Canadian Olympic Association, she returned to the Games as Canada’s Chef de Mission for the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
Jones Konihowski has been named to the 2020 class for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1978, was the CEO of KidSport Canada and was a director of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Diane Jones Konihowski was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.
Lynn Kanuka remembers sprinting up and down a hill made out of garbage in Regina in the dead of winter until she was exhausted.
Unorthodox as it may have been, it typifies Kanuka’s grit and inner strength that helped her find a late surge that propelled her onto the medal podium. Competing under her married name of Lynn Williams, she won an Olympic bronze medal in the women’s 3,000-metre run in 1984 and a gold medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games.
“I’m tough and tenacious. I’ve been described as the petite, little tenacious girl,” Kanuka said with a laugh.
“I was small and stocky and no one would have looked at me and said ‘you’re going to be an Olympic runner.’ Nobody would have said that. No way. But my engine is strong, I think – my aerobic engine and my work ethic. Certainly, there’s a talent factor that got fine-tuned over the years, but I was fortunate to have really wonderful people as supporters – first of all my family and then these great coaches that helped me along.”
An active multi-sport athlete who had been a competitive swimmer, Kanuka decided to start running on her own down Wascana Parkway near the University of Regina (U of R) when she was 16.
“I wanted to do something for myself. It wasn’t about sport, it was about fitness. For whatever reason, I decided I would bundle up and run out to the university and back. It was wintertime. It was cold. I didn’t have running technical clothes or anything. My friends thought I was nuts. People weren’t really doing that – and certainly not 16-year-old teenagers,” Kanuka said.
She said she had great “fun-loving prairie parents” who were supportive and threw her into sports to keep her out of trouble. Her father had been an athlete, but still, she was surprised when he saw her going out for a run and offered to go with her.
“That was pivotal,” she said. “He could have said ‘why are you going to do that, it’s -30C outside’ or ‘you should be helping your mother make dinner in the kitchen.’ He could have said that, but instead he said ‘well wait a minute and I’ll come with you.’
“He huffed and puffed and we got all the way out there and I was about to turn around and go back. There’s that garbage dump hill out there, covered in snow and he said ‘we’re all the way out here, why don’t you run up and down that hill a few times.’ I never argued with him and now I was huffing and puffing. I loved it. I loved working hard. It felt good to move and breathe and have my heart-rate go up. And that was probably my first running interval session.”
She had run track, but in her senior year at Regina LeBoldus, she decided to run cross country instead of playing volleyball and won the high school provincial title. After high school, she trained in Regina under the guidance of coach Larry Longmore at the Wheat City Kinsmen Track Club. She competed at the 1977 Canada Games in St. John’s, NL and also attended the Legion Track Championships as she got her first taste of national-level competition.
“Those things are very pivotal and they nudge, nudge, nudge you along with more experience,” Kanuka said. “Along the way you have these people – if you’re lucky like I was – who also nudge you along and that little voice in your head tells you you’re on the right path.”
After two years at the U of R – which did not have a track program at the time – Longmore encouraged her to transfer to the University of Saskatchewan to work with Huskies track coach Lyle Sanderson (himself a Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame inductee in 1994).
“Lyle was a great coach and mentor and father of fun I would say,” Kanuka said. “He was coaching Diane Jones Konihowski and they had quite the program there over all of those years and so that seemed like a good idea to me. That was a pivotal year. It was only one year, but it felt so much longer.
“Things are so different now. We had a gym, a regular gym, and we would have a full track team practice going on in there. Lyle arranged for the construction of wooden corners… It was small, small quarters, but everything was so well organized and orchestrated. Now, of course, there’s a field house. There are good things about having facilities, but there were many good things that happened when we were tough and close and resilient in those days and in those conditions.”
While she had been focused on attending medical school in Saskatoon, Kanuka made the national cross country team and won a university championship and Sanderson suggested she could get a college scholarship in the United States.
“I still wasn’t committed really. I didn’t understand what I could maybe achieve at that stage. I was just going along with it. At that point, I didn’t really have an Olympic dream,” Kanuka said.
She went to the library and sent letters to all of the warm-weather universities that “seemed like they would be cool places to go to” and settled on a scholarship to San Diego State. There she competed in a number of distances from the 800m to the 10,000m and was often injured.
“I had a wonderful experience down there, but there were challenges. I ran injured a lot. Every summer I never had a Canadian track season because I had to run so much,” Kanuka said.
Lynn Kanuka competing at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Kanuka made her IAAF World Cross Country Championship debut in 1979 and competed there for four straight years. However, she didn’t make her outdoor debut internationally until 1983. At the ’83 IAAF World Championships, she finished 10th in the 3,000m but ran the same time – eight minutes, 50.20 seconds – as the ninth-place finisher. American Mary Decker won the race and West German Brigitte Kraus was second ahead of a pair of runners from the Soviet Union, including three-time gold medalist Tatyana Kazankina.
Having married fellow 1984 Olympian Paul Williams in 1983, she had almost considered her running career over.
“I was finished, I thought,” she said. “I was injured again and I thought I would go apply for med school. He said ‘Lynn, you never really got to be who you could be as a runner because of all of the racing and the injuries.’ He said ‘give it one more year and focus on the Olympic trials and see if you can make the Olympic team.’ That’s when a light went on for me. I thought I’ve been doing this for so long now, why don’t I focus on this and see what happens?”
Kanuka qualified for the Olympic team and she would compete in the first women’s 3,000m in the Olympics. It would be one of the marquee events of the Games.
After winning two gold medals at the IAAF worlds, Decker had been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportswoman of the Year – only the second time in 30 years that a woman had won the honour alone. Decker made her international debut at 15 – sporting braces and pigtails and weighing 89 pounds – and endeared herself to the American public by throwing a baton at a Soviet runner who cut her off during an indoor race in Moscow. She had broken seven world records by the time she made her Olympic debut in 1984.
While the Eastern Bloc boycott meant that the top Soviet runners would not be present, there was some controversy about one runner who would be at the Games. Zola Budd was an 18-year-old South African runner who competed barefoot. With sanctions placed on South Africa due to their government’s apartheid policy, Budd had rarely competed internationally. However, she opened some eyes when she unofficially broke the world record in the 3,000m at a race in South Africa. That spurred an English tabloid to note that she had a British grandparent and champion her cause. Budd received her British citizenship in short order and not without some controversy.
Lynn Kanuka poses with her bronze medal from the 1984 Olympic Games.
Budd wasn’t the only runner posting great times. At Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C., the Canadian team was preparing for the Games and Kanuka ran the fastest time in the world in a time trial. The world record can only fall in an official competition, but still, the time she posted was valuable three weeks before the Games.
“We were so excited. We celebrated. ‘Oh my God, you’re so ready!’ I knew that I could run with anybody that was going to be there. So I was very excited. Nobody was looking at me and I knew I could be in that final,” Kanuka said.
Before the Games, the Canadian middle-distance runners trained together in Lynn’s old stomping grounds of San Diego. She qualified in second place in her heat, behind Decker who won in Olympic record time.
“Dieticians don’t like it when I tell this story, but the night before I went out for dinner with one of my coach/mentors – Dr. Jack Taunton, he was a pioneer in the world of sport medicine – and for my last supper before the Olympic final we had pizza and a beer together,” Kanuka said. “Good prairie girl… we used to always have a Friday night beer and pizza night, so that was really familiar. It was a beautiful evening and I said ‘well Dr. Jack, I’m ready. There’s no reason not to go out there and run my heart out.’”
Thelma Wright, herself a former Olympic runner, was coaching Kanuka in Vancouver. Wright would give birth to a future Olympian during the Games back in Canada.
“She was great for me and in fact, I broke her (Canadian) records in the 800 and 3k, so that was really cool,” Kanuka said. “The day before the final she sent me a telegram: ‘Lynn, your godson Anthony Madison Wright came out fighting today and that’s what you need to do tomorrow.’”
With some inspiring words from her coach, a blazing training time fresh in her mind, and at ease in Southern California, the stars aligned well for her Olympic debut.
“I was nervous. There was so much hype, but I was ready. It helps when you’re ready. At least I had gone to the worlds in ’83, so that helped,” Kanuka said. “For me, I was a relatively unknown Canadian. Certainly, no one was focusing on me to win a medal.”
As it happened, the women’s 3,000m would not only live up to any pre-race hype, but it would go down as one of the most memorable races in Olympic history. Kanuka’s fighting spirit would hold her in good stead.
“On the day, what a crazy race that was, just crazy,” Kanuka said. “My plan was to tuck in the middle. It was going to be predictable that Mary Decker and Zola Budd were going to vie for the lead. They’re both front-runners. They like to lead. That’s how they are. But there’s danger in that. The track is narrow and only one person can be in front. I thought they would set the pace and I would tuck in there.
“I have what we call ‘good turnover.’ I’m small, but I can get my legs going quicker, so I get the jump on people and I can pass quicker and hopefully, they can’t react. That was always a strategy of mine.
“It was so bumpy and jostly and it was very fast. It was a world record pace the first few laps. We were working really hard and I was getting bumped around. You can’t really see it on TV, but it was not easy going.”
Kanuka settled in on the inside lane and sat in fifth or sixth throughout the opening laps. After four laps, Budd inched into a lead and with Decker on her heels, the pair collided and Decker fell into the infield having injured her right leg. Decker would contend that the inexperienced Budd had cut inside too quickly after her pass. Budd would be initially disqualified after the race for obstruction, only to have her result reinstated an hour later after a review of the tape. The incident would be debated for years, but at that moment the 93,000 people in the Los Angeles Coliseum voiced their shock and displeasure at seeing Decker hit the ground.
“I saw they bumped and then boom, Mary goes down. We all had to do a dipsy-doodle and avoid the collision, Kanuka said.
A lap earlier American Joan Hansen had collided with New Zealand’s Dianne Rodger and fell, but got up to finish the race. Behind Kanuka, Brigitte Kraus – the world championship silver medalist – had also hit the ground.
“When we came around there’s Brigitte down and I assumed – I think as we all did – that Mary went down, but she would get up and rejoin the pack somehow. Then there she is, still down as we do another lap and then you’re thinking ‘my God, Mary Decker is out’ and I remember the crowd – it started with this great roar – and now they’re booing like there was foul play,” Kanuka said.
Decker and Kraus would not finish the race.
Budd, Britain’s Wendy Sly and Romanian Maricica Puică were bunched with Decker when she fell and had broken away from the rest of the field.
“We all lost focus. It went from being in a pack to everyone being spread out around the track,” Kanuka said. “There were literally a couple of laps where I remember nothing. I just remember running in this weird vacuum and hearing all of this booing. Then I woke up. I heard the bell and it was ‘holy crap, it’s the last lap, wake up!’
“I looked and I’m in fourth and I could see that Zola Budd was coming back. The bear had jumped on her back. If anybody lost focus, she probably did. She had no gas. I thought ‘if I can go by her I’ll be in medal contention.’”
As Budd faded, Kanuka surged, catching her on the final backstretch.
“I passed her and now I was really running. I was racing for my life, but I knew that everybody else was waking up too. I could hear them,” Kanuka said.
Puică had more in the tank than Sly and won comfortably with Kanuka claiming the bronze medal in a time of 8:42.14.
Lynn Kanuka wave to the crowd from the medal podium in Los Angeles.
“It was an amazing day,” Kanuka said.
“It was a great race, but it was not my best race. It was just the one that got the most attention. I was a much better, stronger, seasoned, experienced athlete in the years following.”
Two years later, on a cold, windy day in Scotland, Sly would enter the Commonwealth Games as the favourite alongside Scottish runner Yvonne Murray. Two years on, Kanuka was definitely not flying under the radar anymore.
“That was probably one of my favourite strategic races because it was super cold and windy,” Kanuka said. “Yvonne and Wendy are taller than I am and Yvonne likes to lead, so being small I was going to tuck in, but no one wanted to lead that race because it was so windy.
“For four laps it was painfully slow. I knew I had the gears and I would have to go at some point, but I was hoping someone else would go and I could match it and then I would go with 500 metres left and see if anyone could stay with me and keep something in reserve and bust out in the final turn. That was my plan and it really worked.”
When Murray broke from the pack, Kanuka took her time reeling her in and then stuck with her. Kanuka tried to kick with 500 metres left, but Murray matched her late surge and passed Kanuka with 300 metres remaining.
“I remember thinking ‘come on Lynn, you can catch her.’ With 150 to go off the turn, I bust out and passed her and she couldn’t match it and that was it,” Kanuka said. “That was a great one. That was one of my favourite races.”
Kanuka returned to the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. She opened the Games with a disappointing eighth-place run in the 3,000m but finished her Olympic career with a strong fifth-place finish in the 1,500m.
Between those two races, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson failed a drug test, was stripped of his gold medal in the 100m and created a major distraction within the Canadian delegation and the track team.
“I personally had one of my best races in the 1,500, but of course the Ben Johnson scandal happened and that was awful afterward,” Kanuka said. “I ran my best time. I finished fifth, but it was a crazy race too.”
Kanuka had grown to prefer the 1,500m and finished in a time of four minutes and 86/100ths of a second. She was 62/100ths of a second out of second place in a frenzied finish.
“That’s how close it was,” Kanuka said. “That was a really great race. That was one of my best races ever, for sure.”
Romanian Paula Ivan won the 1,500m in an Olympic record time of 3:53.96 that still stands in a dominating performance. Two Soviet runners rounded out the medals.
Four women’s running world records and four more Olympic records still stand from the 1980s. Those times have done little to quell the suspicions of drug use that surrounded the era even before Johnson’s positive test.
“There were others in our midst as well who were dabbling in that world of performance enhancements. There were rumours flying around and scandalous things that were happening,” Kanuka said. “I didn’t really focus on that.
“I just tried to beat them. That’s the name of the game, get to the line first. Was it frustrating – if I really get going on it? Yeah, for sure, but I’m a cup-half-full kind of gal. Why focus on that? It’s just negative.”
Lynn Kanuka, left, coaching Canadian Olympian Nathasha Wodak.
Kanuka makes her home in White Rock, B.C. where she has four children and coaches Canadian Olympian Natasha Wodak, the Canadian record-holder in the 10,000m, amongst others. While she does coach elite athletes, Kanuka believes “movement is medicine” and is just as passionate about inspiring people to be more active.
“That’s really become my passion. I love helping people take steps to better health and enjoy the sport I love,” she said.
“I’ve worked a long time now – a dozen years or more – with our Indigenous population out here in B.C. When I first started we had three leaders that I trained to coach and lead the running and walking programs. Now from three leaders in one tiny training session, we now have five regional leader training events and we train at least 100 leaders every year and over 2,000-plus people who are mobilized in running and walking programs. This is not about performance, it’s about personal well-being and the kind of wheel of health that we know exists, we just have to tap into it.”
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