Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Every country has it’s own stories to tell about the athletes that made it to the Olympics, and quite often the details of those stories are compelling. Sadly, however, only the winners in the biggest and most exciting sports (like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt) really get those stories told to the rest of the world.
Since it will be very underreported (if reported at all) in the US, for the benefit of my US friends I thought I’d pass on just one of the many interesting “behind-the-scenes” stories from Team Canada, this one focusing on one of those sports that doesn’t really command the world’s attention the way (say) basketball or running or pole-vaulting do: the Equestrian team.
Canada’s Equestrian squad had two members with really compelling tales to tell: first there was gold-medal winner (in Individual Show Jumping) Eric Lamaze, who missed both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics because of his cocaine use. Here was a guy with obvious talent but just kept messing up, a party animal who finally got serious, cleaned up and eventually made it not just all the way back, but to the very top of the heap. Canada has not won the gold in this event since 1968. A powerful testament to second (and third) chances and personal redemption.
Then there's 61-year-old Ian Millar, who has cemented his reputation as one of the greatest horse-riders of all time not by winning a medal (he finally did -- the Silver -- this year), but by making the team for a record-tying ninth time (he actually qualified for the team 10 times, but in 1980 Canada boycotted the Moscow Olympics so he didn’t go). Generally the Olympics are for the young and strong, but there are select events where an older athlete can still be the best in the world. The record for oldest athlete ever winning a medal at the Olympics was 72-year-old Oscar Swahn, who got a Silver in the 1920 games for a (now-abandoned) event called the Running Deer Double Shot team event.
Millar thinks he has a very good shot at riding again in 2012 in London, when he’ll be 65. From watching interviews with the man, I don’t doubt it. Sometimes, experience and faith can trump youth and vigour.