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May 24 2019 - New Brunswick’s Track & Field History by Rod MacKenzie, Part 1
Hello to everyone ! Today, we are beginning a regular series of articles on the History of Track and Field performances in New Brunswick over the last one hundred years. My name is Rod MacKenzie, from Moncton, and I am a former athlete, coach and organizer, and also a huge track fan, who has recently completed extensive research into our sport’s history here in our home province. This story is fascinating, educational, and eye-opening, all at once, and it will make you proud to be a New Brunswicker ! We hope you enjoy these stories over the next few months, and we welcome your comments, feedback, additions and corrections at any time. Please contact me at email@example.com.
Our first column today is focussed solely on participation in the highest level of our sport, namely the Olympic Games. To simplify the presentation of our information, we are beginning with our able-bodied athletes; discussion of Paralympian athletes will be presented in a later edition. ** IMPORTANT NOTE: In the effort of full disclosure, (maybe call it a disclaimer), we have chosen not to include in our celebration, any NB athletes who have admitted, under oath, to the use of performance enhancing drugs at any time in their career. **
The first Modern Olympic Games took place in Athens from April 6 – 13, 1896, with 12 nations and 176 men taking part in nine sports. There were no women competing in any events !! Athletics (Track & Field), had 63 men from 9 or 11 countries entered, depending on which source you use. Canada had no entries that year. Many traditional events were held, with the exception of the 200m, 5000m, 10000m, steeplechase, 400 H, Javelin, Hammer, Decathlon, racewalking and relays. The metric system was used internationally for one of the first times, and the running events circled the small, tight track in a CLOCKWISE direction ! The competition was dominated by the Americans, even though very few of their best athletes were present.
By the time of the 7th Olympiad, in Paris, May 4 – July 7, 1924, the Olympic movement had grown by leaps and bounds, and now had 45 nations represented, with over 3,000 men, and 156 women from 45 nations competing in twenty sports. Track and Field was held from July 6 – 13th that summer, with most traditional events represented, also including cross-country and both a men’s Pentathlon and Decathlon. Unfortunately, there were still no women invited to compete in Athletics. This was the Games that featured both famous Finnish distance legend Paavo Nurmi, and the British sprinter, Eric Liddell, whose story was told in the movie “Chariots of Fire”. Canada sent a fairly large track team, including many events where they entered three or four athletes; they travelled to Europe by boat !!
Amazingly, this is where our International NB Track history really begins, as New Brunswick had TWO athletes qualify for the 1924 Paris Games. Remarkable & incredible . . two NB’ers on the same Olympic Track Team. When will that ever happen again ? Twenty-five year old High Jumper, Andrew Miller, a two time National Champion from the Sussex area, competed in Paris with a minor nagging injury, and jumped a sub-par 1.65m (over 6 inches below his 1.81 pb) in the Qualifying rounds, finishing 22nd out of 27 and not making the Finals. He performed poorly at the mid-June CDN Olympic Trials, finishing 3rd or 4th, but was our only jumper remotely close to the Olympic standard, and was chosen on that basis. However, because he did not place in the Trials meet, he had to pay half of his travel expenses on his own to get to Paris. Had he equalled his pb that day, he would have placed tenth out of 27 jumpers !
Joining him on the 1924 Olympic Team was 21 year old quarter miler William Maynes of the Saint John area, who earned a spot on the 4 x 400m relay team. Maynes was a two time National Senior medallist, with an incredible PB of 50.8 for 440 yds, actually 50.5 over 400m !! That was almost one hundred years ago. He ran the second leg of Canada’s 4 x 400m team, and they placed second in the opening round heats, ranked 5th going into the FINALS. In the championship final race, with 6 teams, they finished a solid 4th overall, behind a world record setting American squad, Sweden, and 3rd place Great Britain about 5.5 seconds in front of them. Our New Brunswicker, “Billy” Maynes, just a few strides shy of winning Olympic bronze !! His relay result is our highest ranked Olympic track performance ever .
More than 3 decades and 5 Olympics would pass before our next NB athlete reached the Olympic peak. The 1956 Melbourne (Australia) Olympics were held in late November/early December, and were the first Olympic Games held in the Southern Hemisphere. The meet was held at the famous Melbourne Cricket Grounds, and involved 573 men and 147 women from 59 countries. The men had a full slate of events, but the women did not race longer than 200m (!!!), and there was no female 400H, racewalk, hammer throw, pole vault, or triple jump. Barely 20 years old, Diane Matheson, who began her illustrious track career in Moncton, competed in the heats of the 100m (6th of 6 athletes, tying for 29th overall out of 34), running electronic 12.59; in the 200m heats, she placed 3rd of 5 in her race (25.86), and ranked 23rd out of 27 overall; her CDN 4 x 100m relay team finished 5th of 5 in their heat (46.79), and 9th of 9 overall. In her track career over 4-5 seasons, Matheson broke or tied Canadian SR records in the 100/200m, and the 100/220 yards several times. She would go on to compete for Canada at the 1958 British Empire (Commonwealth) Games in Wales, and capture a BRONZE medal in the 4 x 100m relay. She is one of a small handful of NB athletes to medal at a major International Games. At CDN SR Nationals, Diane captured 3 Gold and 2 Silvers in the sprints.
Our next Track Olympian was a Moncton native, coached and trained in Ottawa, and was a National Champion in the Men’s Javelin. John Corazza (Officially Giovanni in his Italian family, Jean at his French High School) was a 26 year old named to the 1980 Olympic Team, but unfortunately was unable to realize his dream because of the USA led Western boycott of the Moscow Games (60 nations pulled out), in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In a high level “alternate” Olympic tour of competitions throughout Scandinavia two weeks prior to Moscow, Corazza recorded several outstanding performances and defeated some of the world’s best throwers ! Between 1977 and 1979, John represented Canada at a Commonwealth Games, World Student Games, and a World Cup Trials, and his pb (with the older model 800g jav) of 84.34 metres in 1980 ranked in the top 4 all time Canada at his retirement ! If he had competed in Moscow and equalled his pb, John would have qualified 5th of 18 in the prelims, and in the Finals, he would have tied for 6th out of twelve overall !!
Our next Olympian made his first appearance in the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and about 10 years later, he ranked (and still does) as our most decorated and accomplished International athlete. Joel Bourgeois, a 25 year old Grande-Digue native, toed the line in the opening round as one of thirty five runners in the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase. He ran 8:28.14, finishing 4th in his heat, and moved on to the semi-finals. There, Bourgeois ran to a fine 7th place in 8:31.45, finishing 16th overall, narrowly missing the top 12 Finals. Four years later, in Sydney, Australia, Joel recorded an 8:28.07 heat, good enough for 7th of 13, but did not move on to the 15 man Final. He ranked 17th overall in the final standings. Over his magnificent career, Bourgeois competed in two Olympics, three Commonwealth Games (4th, 5th, 6th), three Pan Am Games (Gold, Silver, 6th), four World Student Games (Silver, Bronze, 5th, 5th), two World Championships (14th, 31st) and a World Junior Championships (6th). In Canadian Senior National competition, Joel picked up a remarkable 6 Gold, 6 Silver and one Bronze medal. Simply amazing !
Finally, our most recent Olympian is Moncton’s 3K Steeplechaser, Genevieve Lalonde, who competed in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Gen was up against 52 athletes in her event, and ran a fine 4th in her heat, in 9:30.24, enough to qualify for the Finals. In a tough Finals, the 24 year old ran 9:41.88, good enough for 16th of 18 in the final rankings. She presently has a PB and Canadian SR record time of 9:29.99, from the 2017 World Championships in London, where she placed a solid 13th. Gen has also competed at the 2015 Worlds in Beijing, the 2015 Pan Ams in Toronto (Bronze), the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, the 2007 World Youth, 2010 World Juniors, 2018 World Indoors, and the 2011 World Student Games.
Thanks for reading . . . our next article will cover NB performances at the Pan American Games and British Empire/Commonwealth Games since 1938.
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