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.”
As I step into the role of President of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (SSHF) I thought it was only appropriate to look back at some of the distinguished leaders who have come before me over the past 50 years and give them thanks for their contributions to the SSHF. While there have been too many to list individually a special thank you goes to Linda Burnham, Scott Waters and Trent Fraser, the three Past Presidents that I have had the pleasure of working alongside while on the Board. All three of you have been instrumental in setting the Hall on its current path and providing a framework for the Hall’s continued success for its next 50 years and beyond. Thank you.
While 2016 was a landmark year with our 50th anniversary celebrations, we have strived to keep that excitement and energy going into 2017 through a number of different means. We were honoured to have been asked by the Province to have our traveling exhibit make its first out-of-province excursion and be showcased to represent Saskatchewan at the 2017 Jeux Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba. We are also pleased to see that Menagerie Productions is re-launching Diamond Girls in the fall.
One of the Board’s goals remains securing a long term space that will allow us to better display and preserve Saskatchewan’s rich and diverse sporting history; however, we are also excited to announce some continued changes to our current location in the coming weeks. These changes will continue to pursue the Board’s goal of making the Hall more interactive and engaging for visitors. All of these enhancements will be items we could take with us to a new space and are part of the Board’s goal of blending the permanency of a physical location with other mediums of interactions that will better allow us to tell the story of Saskatchewan sport across a broader audience.
After a pause last year to commemorate the prior 50 years’ inductees in 2017, we are excited to resume our inductions and honour a new slate of inductees. This year’s class of inductees highlights the depth and diversity of Saskatchewan’s sporting history. We invite you to take part in the celebration of these inductees with us on September 30th.
The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (SSHF) is pleased to announce that The Spirit of ’89: Memories from the 1989 Jeux Canada Summer Games, co-published by the SSHF and The 1989 Jeux Canada Games Foundation, has been awarded an “ISHY” from the International Sports Heritage Association (ISHA) as the best book publication in the industry for institutions with a budget greater than $250,000 US.
Publications are adjudicated by our peers in the industry on the basis of how well they feature a member institution, collection, resources and/or inductees of the Hall of Fame.
The SSHF is dedicated to the celebration and interpretation of sport excellence and preserving the sport history of our province. One of the means by which we achieve our mandate is through our Sport History Project (SHP) which allows us to capture the history of organizations or events through different mediums. The Spirit of ’89 was produced under the auspices of the SHP and was written to capture the history of a major sporting event in Saskatchewan and Canada; to showcase the spirit of the people of Saskatoon in hosting the Games; and to commemorate the significant legacy components of the Games. Not only did the Canada Games leave Saskatoon with a wealth of facilities after the Games, the prudent financial stewardship of the Games resulted in a net profit of $1,319,663 from a $24 million+ budget. These funds, invested wisely, have resulted in $100,000 worth of grants being distributed annually to amateur sport programs throughout Saskatchewan resulting in the continued development of sport and providing opportunities to future world class athletes. The legacy of the Games continues.
Ironically, in capturing the history of the 1989 Jeux Canada Games, The Spirit of ’89 also captured historical anecdotes for a number of our hall of famers. Forty-two inductees, out of 498 at the time of publication, are represented in the book.
The ISHY Awards were announced at ISHA’s annual conference hosted this year by the World of Little League Museum in Williamsport, PA. Other 2015 ISHY winners include the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, San Francisco 49ers Museum, St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum, United States Golf Association Museum and Melbourne (Australia) Cricket Club.
ISHA is a membership organization incorporated in 1971 to assist sport museums and halls of fame to develop, operate and promote their facilities in the best way possible. Member institutions are currently located throughout North & South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame will be hosting many of the 2014 Sochi Saskatchewan Olympians & Paralympians this afternoon, Tuesday May 6 between 4-6 p.m. for a public autograph session. What better place to do this than against a backdrop of our exhibit, The Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games presented by McDougall Gauley, which will close with the conclusion of this public event.
Admission to the autograph session is free. Donations are gratefully accepted.
Autograph cards will be offered to all attendees while supplies last.
Attending this afternoon’s event are athletes, coaches and volunteers from the Games, including:
Colette Bourgonje (Paralympian)
Adam Burwell (Olympic, Coach)
Kali Christ (Olympian)
Ben Coakwell (Olympian)
Karen Howard (Olympic, Official)
Brittany Hudak (Olympian)
Marsha Hudey (Olympian)
Curtis Hunt (Paralympic, Coach)
Wayne Kiel (Paralympic, Coach)
Susan Lang (Official)
Paige Lawrence (Olympian)
Ken McArton (Olympic, Official)
Todd McClements (Coach)
Scott Perras (Olympian)
Graeme Rinholm (Olympian)
Lyndon Rush (Olympian)
Rudi Swiegers (Olympian)
Chelsea Valois (Olympian)
Kaspar Wirz (Paralympic, Coach)
The SSHF thanks the Canadian Sport Centre, Saskatchewan and Sask Sport Inc. for making this opportunity possible.
Spring is always an exciting time of year. The snow begins to thaw (although that seems to have stalled), the sun comes out and the sporting world kicks into high gear. The playoffs have started for many sports, marking the conclusion of the season. For others, spring means a new start and a fresh perspective shared by competitors and fans alike.
This feeling even holds true for us that the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. Spring is the start of many exciting things for us, which are outlined in the latest edition of our newsletter For The Record.
Covered in this issue are a multitude of activities including the conclusion of the Sochi Winter Olympics & Paralympics exhibit, marked by a special appearance from some of this province’s best athletes. Also, as you may have noticed, we have a new look to our website coupled with a great new way to experience the Hall of Fame within our physical boundaries.
Lastly, but certainly not least, you will find details of our upcoming induction weekend. Included in the newsletter are details on the events of the weekend along with ticket information, availability and pricing. So enjoy our latest edition and all the excitement that comes with the season. Spring hours start in just a few weeks, so there is more reason than ever to see you at the Hall!
Last week I had the privilege of attending one of the most heartfelt, emotionally charged and inspiring events I have ever been a part of. It was the Regina portion of the “Never Give Up” tour, which is put on by The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame with help from our friends at SaskEnergy. It featured stories from two individuals whose lives and careers have been full of action, excitement and life lessons like few others, even in a sporting world where incredible stories seem to be commonplace.
The event started with a couple of great introductions, which gave our elementary school audience a premise for the almost unbelievable tales they were about to hear. First up was Regina-born Kia Byers, who has accomplished more in less than three decades than most would hope to in an entire lifetime.
Her story is one of dedication and success which was driven by her motivation to achieve a number of goals and supported by a loving family, great coaches and teammates and an entire country behind her as she worked day in and day out for nearly fourteen years to get where she is today.
Along her path there were numerous setbacks, from injuries, to losses, to near misses that may have forced a lesser-driven athlete to abandon their dreams all together. Instead, Kia used them as fuel to pull herself off the proverbial mat and continue pushing forward, willing herself to never give up.
As she grew somewhat older and in the process wiser, Kia found a way to quantify her progression and accomplishments, which would not only help her stay the course, but also feel rewarded on her way to achieving her long-term goals.
She spoke to our young audience about the importance of setting targets for yourself, not only on a grandiose scale like she had with the Olympic Games, but also taking smaller steps along the way like giving yourself personal bests for the sport or activity you are participating in.
Perhaps more importantly however, Kia talked about how her journey has shown her that being a top-level athlete is not the most paramount thing in life. When something like an injury happens, even the most accomplished in a sport are forced to look at life outside of competition and this lead Kia to reflect on herself and refocus on becoming “The best Kia” she could be.
Our second speaker, who throughout his life has been of the mindset that a solid background in sport and athletics should merely serve as a platform to create an outstanding individual, later reiterated this lesson.
This was especially touching in Kia’s case because, while she is no longer actively in the sport of Sprint Kayaking competitively, she is about to embark on her most rewarding journey to date as an expectant mother. With these unforgettable lessons and experiences under her belt, there was not a single doubt in the entire audience that both the young mom and her child will continue to set a great example of how sport can help to mold incredible individuals who not only inspire us, but serve the world well in their daily lives.
The second speaker who I mentioned above, has been the focus of the Never Give Up tour as his book of the same name has served as the focal point of previous presentations and continues to not only inspire the young audiences he addresses, but countless readers and adults he has spoken to over the years.
His name is Ted Jaleta and his accomplishments as a distance runner, which are quite impressive, continue to be overshadowed by his story of survival and the way he inspires hundreds of people to continue on in the face of adversity, even when the odds seem insurmountable against them.
Ted was born and raised in Ethiopia; where the hurdles he faced make most in our daily lives seem like mere speed bumps. While his mother and father had never been exposed to any level of education themselves, there was nothing more important in their eyes than for their son to have a chance for a better life; they saw this opportunity through education.
Young Ted first found he was a gifted runner not through love for the sport, as he was unaware that even existed. Rather he honed his skills with the miles of running he had to do each day in order to get to and from school. For Ted running was a means of daily transportation before it was ever a means to see the world through competition of any sort. If you were to ask him nearly fifty years ago a younger Jaleta had aspirations of a World Cup soccer title and none of international road racing success.
While his skill as a runner maybe have come by accident, it did lead Ted to national level success and even saw him groomed as a potential Olympian who might one day represent his country on the world’s biggest stage.
After years of struggling to attain an education while growing as a racer, Ted was faced with more adversity as he attempted to pursue post secondary knowledge. During this time, Ted was persecuted within his nation and forced to flee and hide just to survive.
After spending time literally on the run and seeking refuge at a camp in Kenya, Mr. Jaleta was fortunate enough to be sponsored by the Canadian government and find a new home here in Regina, where he has resided since 1982.
In the years since arriving here, he has once again overcome struggle. This time it was not survival that he was worried about but rather, fitting in and making a life for himself in a city, and country which he knew next to nothing about.
Like Kia however, strong life lessons had been learned along his journey and he used the knowledge he had gained over the years to persevere and strive unwaveringly for as long as he needed to see his dreams become a reality.
Ted is now happily married with a beautiful family and spends his time working and speaking with the youth of the community, looking only to give them the same incredible opportunities he has been able to take advantage of. He still runs of course, only it is no longer with the same consequence it once was, nor as Ted will tell you, with the same speed.
At the end of the day, the curious young minds that filled the auditorium where filled with many new thoughts, questions and of course the important knowledge and inspiration they need so that when life deals them a set back, they too will find a way to never give up.
Thanks again to our presenting sponsor, SaskEnergy, as well as The Regina Performing Arts Center for the amazing opportunity to hear these two incredible stories told. I would like to invite all of you to take some time and find out a little more about Kia and Ted, as the few words I have written here simply do not do them justice.
It has been a busy couple of months for Kaylyn Kyle since returning from the London Olympics where she helped her team and our country capture a bronze medal; our first medal of any color in the history of the sport. It has been a whirlwind not only in terms of the demands on her time, as media outlets, fans and sponsors all want a piece of her but also emotionally as she has admittedly had little time to allow what has happened to really sink in.
She has however had a few fleeting moments where should let her guard down, be herself and truly enjoy life after the games, and many of those moments have come at home back here in Saskatchewan. Between appearances all over the country and abroad with trips back and forth from here to Los Angeles becoming common, Kaylyn has said that spending time with family and friends has been the best way to enjoy the success she has seen.
Recently she stopped by the Hall of Fame to sign autographs and take photos with fans on a grassroots level, many of whom play in the very same programs as Kaylyn did growing up. It was interesting to see how the star athlete interacted with fans in Regina and it was also great to see just how much everyone involved really did enjoy the experience.
The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame was able to have a couple of cameras on hand for the event, and in the process captured some hands on footage of what the day was really all about for Kaylyn and her fans alike. Enjoy the video as we take look back on the morning of October 20th, when fans from across southern Saskatchewan came together to honor one of our great young athletes. Also be on the lookout for more great events and content to come from the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.
As is the case with every Olympic Games our country partakes in, there was much accomplished with much left to be desired. One of the sports showcased at the games however seemed to be the perfect combination of both desire and accomplishment brought together in way that has brought pride to this country like few things before it.
When our Women’s Soccer team took to the pitch at the start of the games, little was known about how they would fair, yet expectation was high as they went into the London games as potentially the most skilled squad this country has ever assembled. Throughout the tournament there was controversy, struggle and success and through it all the team managed to maintain the composure and positive attitude that our entire nation has become famous for.
During the course of the games, stories began to unfold and the spotlight started to shine on a few of the team’s standouts from different parts of the country. One such standout just so happens to be Saskatchewan’s very own Kaylyn Kyle who, during this Olympics helped to place both Women’s soccer and this province on one of the highest stages it has ever seen.
As most people are now aware the team went on to capture a bronze medal, giving Canada it’s first ever podium finish in the sport. Since the closing of the games there has been a whirlwind of media attention surrounding not only Kaylyn, but the team in it’s entirety and upon returning home there has been little if anything to slow the momentum of anyone associated with this incredible accomplishment.
But Kaylyn, like most Canadian athletes, will never forget the people, or the place that helped her reach her goals and has been constantly giving back to the sporting community of Saskatchewan. Now in celebration of everything she has done, this rising star is being honored by the Saskatchewan Sports Hall Of Fame with an autograph signing and photo opportunity for friends and fans in the Regina area.
On October 20th, from 10AM to 12 Noon Kaylyn will be at the Hall, located at 2205 Victoria Ave, in Regina where she will be taking time to talk and sign autographs for everyone attending the event. There will also be a photographer on hand taking pictures at a cost of $5/each (cash only) for anyone who would like to mark this occasion with a personalized memento.
Come and go as you please from the event, and feel free to stay as long as you like to take in all the great information and history that The Saskatchewan Sports Hall Of Fame has to offer.
We would like to thank all of our amazing sponsors for this event, Signature Graphics, sharpshooter photography, Designer Photographic Technologies and our Presenting Sponsor Mitchell Developments Ltd. We would also like to thank the Saskatchewan Soccer Association as well as the Regina Soccer Association for their support, and look forward to seeing all of you on the 20th!