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Jun 14 2019 - New Brunswick’s Track & Field History by Rod MacKenzie, Part 2
Welcome to Part 2, our second installment on the History of National and International Performances by New Brunswick Track and Field athletes over the last one hundred years. We hope you enjoyed our Part 1 segment on the Olympic Games.
Today, we will look back at the eight NB athletes who represented Canada at the British Commonwealth Games from 1930-2018. As many of you know, the international world of track and field has had, for some time now, a wonderful competitive celebration of the world’s best, highlighted by the top level competitions at Olympic Games (1896-2016), Pan American Games (1951-2015), British Empire/Commonwealth Games (1930-2018), and the more recent World Outdoor Championships (1983-2017). The Commonwealth Games were essentially born out of early “meetings of the sporting minds” just around the turn of the 20th Century. John Astley Cooper wrote an article in the London Times in 1900, suggesting a sporting festival every four years as a means of promoting goodwill and good understanding of the British Empire. This proposed sporting tradition began with the Festival of Empire sports meeting, which took place in London as part of events connected with the coronation of King George V in 1911. This involved athletics, boxing, wrestling and swimming events.
Later suggestions and proposals that an Empire-based, regular sporting competition to parallel the Olympic Games be held every four years, did not bear fruit until 1930. This followed a Canadian initiative under the direction of Melvin Marks Robinson, a Canadian who managed our 1928 Olympic Track team in Amsterdam. Canada actually introduced and hosted the very first British Empire Games in Hamilton, Ontario, Aug. 16-23, 1930. Eleven countries sent a total of 400 athletes to these first British Empire Games. Six sports were featured: Athletics/Track and Field, boxing, lawn bowls, rowing, swimming/diving, and wrestling. Women were only able to compete in the Aquatic events. Over the next forty plus years, these multi-sport Games would be known as: the British Empire Games, 1930-1950; the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, 1954-1966; the British Commonwealth Games, 1970 and 1974; and finally, as we know it today, the Commonwealth Games (1978-2018).
In Hamilton, 1930, the first Games Track competition, held at Civic Stadium, only included 21 male events, and all races and measurements were done in imperial units of miles, yards, feet & inches. The event schedule compared favourably to what we see today, with the absence of racewalk and decathlon. Host Canada ranked second to England, with 6 golds and 19 total medals. The 100 yards was won by the famous Percy Williams of Canada, the Olympic champ from 1928.
The 3rd edition of the British Empire Games in 1938, in Sydney, Australia Feb. 5-12, witnessed the very first NB athlete to appear in this competition, and only the third international athlete in our history, following our two Olympians, Maynes and Miller, from 1924. Sigurd (“Sig”) Nielsen, (apologies, as his name has been spelled three different ways in various sources) a 21 year old Mt A student from the Plaster Rock area, was a sprinter and well known rugby player who was selected to the Canadian team to run the 100 and 220 yard races. Five months previous, in September, 1937, he set a Canadian record of 9.6 for 100 yards, running a meet in Saint John. At the 1938 British Empire Games, Sig made it out of his heats in the 100 (winning the heat or finishing 3rd depending on the source of information), and narrowly missed the final, finishing 5th in his semi-final in 10.3 (electric time). In the 220, Nielsen finished 4th in his heat and did not move on. Still young then, there is little information available to indicate any future results from him on the track after 1938. His provincial (and Canadian) record of 9.6 stood for more than thirty years, and to this day, his performance still ranks among the top 3 or 4 all-time by a New Brunswicker !
The 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games were hosted by Canada in Vancouver in early August and it was there that a 17 year old recent Fredericton High grad wore Canada’s colours for three events. Margery Squires, a talented sprinter, hurdler and long jumper, ran the heats of the 100 yds in 11.5, finishing 7th in her race and 14th overall; she long jumped 5.30m in her specialty and placed 8th of 14 (3rd ranked CDN); and finally, she became our very first ever medal winner in international competition by winning BRONZE with the 4 x 110 yd relay team !! Margery and her teammates, Annabelle Murray, Dorothy Kozak and Geraldine Bemister, ran for third in 47.8 in the women’s sprint relay, which replaced the old medley relay of 110-220-110 !! Also in these Games, the shot put and discus were introduced as new events for women, and there were a total of 21 track events held for men, and 9 for the ladies ! Margery Squires, a member of the Fredericton Sports Wall of Fame, was a highly ranked long jumper in Canada and a silver medallist at National Seniors who once unofficially broke the Canadian Women’s Long Jump record. Her PB of 5.41m (17 ft 9 in) stood as our provincial record for almost 25 years, and still ranks high on our all-time provincial list. The athletic gene pool ran deep for this family, as her daughter Susan competed for NB in the 1977 Canada Games, and once held our provincial 100m record at 12.0; also, Margery’s granddaughter Sarah ran for us in the 2009 and 2013 Canada Games, & was on the provincial record team in the ladies 4 x 400m relay in both Games !
Our next participant in the British Empire and Commonwealth Games was Moncton born 1956 Olympian Diane Matheson. As a top ranked Canadian sprinter in both 100 & 220 yards and former national record holder, she was selected to the women’s 4 x 110 yd relay team for the 1958 Games in Cardiff, Wales. There, in late July, 21 year old Diane and her running mates of Eleanor Haslam, Freyda Berman and Maureen Rever, sped to a 47.21 and a BRONZE medal !! For the second consecutive Empire Games, a New Brunswick track athlete captures a RELAY BRONZE !! Wow . . . To the best of our knowledge, they are the only athletes from this province to ever medal in a relay internationally in a major Games. Diane would go on to great heights in Track and Field Administration over the years, as a co-founder of the Richmond, BC Kajaks Club (with her husband, ex-Olympian runner Doug Clement), and also as the President of Athletics Canada (CDN T & F Association at the time) in the mid 70’s !!
Edith Priscilla Patricia (“Pat”) Dobie was a 1957 grad of FHS and a talented multi-sport athlete who is a member of several Halls/Walls of Fame in two different provinces in several sports. She won an incredible 16 medals in CDN SR National Track Championships from 1957-62, in the shot put, discus, javelin, and the sprint hurdles, representing either NB or Saskatchewan. She’s probably our only athlete to ever medal at CDN SRS in both a track event and a field event !! She was National Champ a total of NINE times !! Incredible !! Pat was 23 years old when she qualified to represent us at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, western Australia in late November. There, she threw a CDN record 44.44m while placing 5th of 6 in the javelin, then followed up with a 39.90m toss in the discus, ranking her 7th of 7 in the competition. In each event, she was the only Canadian girl competing. Five months later, Pat would represent Canada with a fine 4th place finish in the ladies javelin at the Pan American Games in Sao Paulo , Brazil !! All of her career pb’s in the throwing events still rank today among the 4 or 5 best ever in our Track history ! Quite a career indeed . . . .
It would be 16 years and four more Games before NB would see another Track & Field athlete represent Canada at the now newly named “Commonwealth Games”. Edmonton, Alberta in August, 1978, would become the third Canadian city to host these Games and saw our own John (Giovanni) Corazza of Moncton/Ottawa, throw the javelin on August 7th at the age of 24. Corazza, the first NB javelin thrower to exceed the 200 foot/60m mark in the early 70’s, was a veteran at Nationals, winning Gold, Silver and Bronze over a five year span while being coached by Bill Heikkila of Ottawa. In the ’78 Commonwealth Games, Corazza threw 69.14m to place 10th of twelve in the first ever “metric” Games. John also competed in the World University Games in Bulgaria in 1977, the World Cup Trials in Mexico, 1979, and was named to the 1980 CDN Olympic Team for Moscow, which unfortunately resulted in a western boycott. As a replacement for the missed Olympics, Corazza toured the Scandinavian region of Europe, defeating some of the top ranked throwers in the world, and threw a PB of 84.34 metres, one of the best throws ever by a Canadian at the time !! He would later be involved in coaching here at home that saw him coach two of NB’s best ever, national Javelin champs Jason Spalding and Caleb Jones.
The 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, BC, was a first for New Brunswick, as we had TWO athletes make the CDN team for the first time ever in this competition. Willy Best, a 24 year old 800m runner, and 23 year old Steeplechaser Joel Bourgeois, both wore the red & white on home soil for the Fifteenth edition of the Games. Best placed a strong 3rd in his 800m heat in 1:47.48, ranked 7th overall, and moved on to the semi’s where he placed 6th in his race in 1:49.97, missing the final and ranking 14th out of 27 overall. He also was selected to run a leg of the CDN 4 x 400m relay, where Canada ran 3:07.81 to finish 10th out of twelve teams, just missing the final. Joel Bourgeois, meanwhile, made his first of three career appearances at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria by placing 6th overall in 8:31.19. Four years later, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Joel ran to a fine 4th place finish in the 3k steeple, running 8:34.50, trailing only the Kenyans. His final appearance in this competition came in 2002, at the age of 31, as he finished in 8:33.98, to place 5th overall in Manchester, England. Bourgeois had an outstanding international career, spanning 13 years, and topped it off with two medals each at Pan Am Games (gold 1999, silver 2003) and a silver (1995) and bronze (1999) at the World University Games.
Our final honoree in this category represented Canada recently at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (officially the 21st version) on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, in early April. These Games were celebrated as being the first time a major multi-sport event achieved gender equality by having an equal number of events for male and female athletes. Genevieve Lalonde, of Moncton, and training out of Guelph, Ontario, finished 7th out of ten overall in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase, running a time of 9:46.68. She was the lone Canadian entry in the April 11th evening race at the Carrara Stadium. As of June, 2019, Gen has now competed in one Olympics, two outdoor Worlds, one Commonwealth Games and one Pan Am Games, and now has her eyes set on the 2019 Pan Ams, 2019 Worlds, and next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Stay tuned for Part 3 and our look back at the Pan American Game. Comments, additions, corrections welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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