SWIMNEWS ONLINE: October 1996 Magazine Articles

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Nigel Kemp

Currently head coach of Dalhousie University, was an assistant coach with the 1976 Canadian Olympic swim team and coached Nancy Garapick to two bronze medal swims in the 100-200 backstroke.

Many millions of words have been written about the Olympic Games, millions of feet of film shot, and hours of radio and television coverage transmitted since the first Games of the modern era. These were witnessed by just 60,000 people at the Olympic Stadium in Athens in 1896, when 311 athletes from 13 nations competed.

The flame of the XXIst Olympiad was extinguished eight years ago. The 1976 Montreal Olympics represented the world's most photographed, chronicled, and talked about assembly of modern time. Indeed, there were more media representatives accredited in Montreal than there were athletes, even before the withdrawal of 29 African nations.

As one of six members of the Canadian Olympic swim team coaching staff, I was fortunate to experience firsthand the drama and excitement of the first Olympics hosted in Canada.

Mayor Drapeau's 1970 promise to the IOC was kept-almost. The Games did enjoy a security safeguard that protected every athlete and official; the Games did open on schedule, and in superb facilities. It cannot be said, however, that they were politically unblemished or financially modest, in spite of the fact that the majority of the sites for the 21 sports already existed.

Canada, Quebec, Montreal, and COJO, did, notwithstanding the politics, security, inflation, commercialism, and nationalism, stage the world's greatest sport spectacle with a great flair of organization and pageantry.

The opening ceremony certainly lived up to the superlatives of previous Olympic opening ceremonies. Teams began assembling behind the Olympic Village at 1:30 pm on July 17. At 3:00, Greece led the participating teams into the stadium. One hour later the 400-strong Canadian delegation entered. Canada was the last of the 8,700 participants of the 94 countries to enter the stadium.

The march through the Olympic Park to the stadium provided the initial burst of emotional arousal. Thousands of people cheered their support for all athletes, and in particular, Canadian athletes. This emotional high climaxed as teams approached and entered the stadium. We seemed to 'float' around the stadium with the support of the crowd.

The arrival of the Olympic flag was of particular significance. It took place at the far end of the stadium where the Canadian contingent was assembled.

Brenda Parks, a 16-year-old member of my Halifax Trojan AC was chosen as one of the four girls in the 12 person Olympic flag - bearing party. I recollect her sigh of relief, and smile, the moment the flag reached the top of the flagpole. The arrival of the Olympic flame borne by both a male and a female athlete was an Olympic first that embodied the Olympic spirit.

The swimming competition started the next day. The Canadian team trained immediately after the ceremony and then returned to the Olympic Village. Swimmers had a 9:00 curfew in the Village until the completion of competition. Those who did finish early in the program were moved downtown in order not to disturb those athletes still competing.

The much-publicized overcrowding in the Village was nowhere near as prevalent as the media predicted. The apartments were well planned. They each accommodated up to twelve athletes and/or officials, divided amongst three rooms. Extra toilets on each floor relieved other anxieties.

Nancy Garapick had lunch the day after the opening ceremony with the Royal Family, with Prince Andrew as her escort!

Swimming competition in one of the world's best facilities was spread over eight days, with the sixth day being a rest day.

The greatest swim meet ever held in Canada saw its swimmers have their finest hour. Two silver and six bronze medals increased Canada's haul of swimming medals by exactly 100% over those won in Munich in 1972, where swimmers took 4 of the 5 medals claimed by Canadians.

In Montreal over 72% (8 of 11) medals were shared by 14 swimmers - 36% of the swimming team.

Following the Olympic Trials in Etobicoke, June 1-5, 1976, a team of 18 women and 20 men earned the right to represent Canada in Montreal. 66% of the women's team made at least one of the 13 women's finals (6 of 20). 30% of the men's team made final, that is, placed in the top eight in the world. 54% of all races swum in the Games by Canadians were lifetime bests. There was at least one Canadian in 18 of the 26 eight - swimmer finals. In two events, the Canadian team placed 3 in the finals.

Backstrokers Wendy Hogg and Nancy Garapick
For larger 64k photo click on image.

Swimmers were responsible for exactly half of the 108 points, which placed Canada 11th in the unofficial nations point standing. A considerable improvement from 21st place in 1972.

Canadian swimming clearly established itself as the premier amateur and Olympic sport in Canada and the only one in which, at that time, could justifiably claim to be a world power.

Canadian swimmers accomplished these outstanding performances through their own personal commitment to the sport and their association with the three fundamental factors in sport development: organization, finances, and coaching.

Canada was ranked as fourth in the world as a swimming power at the 1976 Games behind the USA, GDR, and the Soviet Union. In women's swimming the GDR was pre-eminent. The media was full of speculation regarding their rapid rise to prominence. Stories of drugs, steroids, muscle mass, etc., were over-played. There were enough performances by non - GDR athletes to demonstrate that anyone in the world can succeed given a positive environment.

The GDR with its support programs, financial advantages (7% of all profits from industry have to be turned over to the development of sport and recreation for all employees and their families), social prestige, educational opportunities, scientific talent search, medical testing, facilities, institutes for the training of coaches, detraining and societal reassimilation simply demonstrate what can be achieved through organization. The seeds for their current success were sown over 20 years ago.

In any society, one sure way for sport to develop is to ally it with full community support: to turn on non-athletes to the intrinsic joys of sports like track and field, gymnastics, swimming, and many others. This way they'll know what it is all about and want to see those gifted and dedicated athletes have a chance to achieve the best of which they are capable.

Physical education programs in the schools have to continue to improve. If children are turned on and graduate from primary and junior high school, hungry for more ambitious sporting and recreational opportunities, they will create their own demand for facilities, coaches, and funding.

It is from this viewpoint that one would hope the Montreal Olympics, and successive Games, be an inspiration for increased participation, and support, in sport across Canada.

Reprinted from SWIM Canada Magazine, July 1984 - #103

Editors Note: The stunning domination of international swimming by GDR women from 1973 to 1989 was built upon an organized system of anabolic- steroid use. 20 prominent East German coaches admitted in a written statement in December of 1990. Their admission provided convincing evidence that senior sport administrators of the now-dissolved Communist state made performance-enhancing drugs a critical part of the training programs. The effectiveness of the program was such that no GDR swimmer was ever caught or penalized for drug use.

The tainted performances and internationals medals have not been taken away as the International Olympic Committee and major international sports federations do not punish athletes retroactively without an admission by the athlete. As a results the athletes involved are in no danger of losing their medals or records.

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