No age limit to sportsmanship
World-class event produced more than its share of competitive spirit and memorable moments
John MacKinnon, The Edmonton JournalPublished: Monday, August 01, 2005
It was the 88-year-old sprinter Champion Goldy who probably put it best: "Heck, I can do that."
Let his jaunty words stand as the credo for the 2005 World Masters Games, as heartwarming a sporting extravaganza as Edmonton has ever staged, which is saying a lot.
Like many of the more than 21,000 Masters participants, Goldy took up athletics as a 70-year-old retiree to keep fit, and stay active. He got hooked and now boasts that he wants to "run the 100 when I'm 100."
If you met him, you wouldn't bet against him fulfilling that pledge. Nor would you gainsay many of these spirited men and women who train and compete to test themselves, live full lives, have fun and see the world.
Sport tourism, some call it, and why not? If you can join the swim club and see the world, where's the downside, if you can afford it?
Take Peter Crombie, a 60-year-old sprinter from the Sydney, Australia suburb of North Narrabeen, who came to Edmonton, won the sprint triple (100-, 200- and 400-metres) and reunited with his 26-year-old son, Steve, who's in the midst of a five-year motorcycle trip around the world. He cycled up from Chile for the Games.
"I hadn't seen my dad in two years," Steve Crombie said. "And I had never seen him compete in one of these Masters Games, so it was a great bonding experience."
David Kelley of Sacramento played baseball with the Downunders,a team of 40-something Aussies at the 2002 World Masters in Melbourne, and liked the lads so much he joined the team. Now he connects with them at events such as the 2005 Masters. You meet some good teammates, you stick with them.
Sixty-seven year-old Tom Verth of Paris, Ont., and Wally Henne of Sarnia, 70, met at a masters swim competition in Brantford, Ont., some years ago, became fast friends and have been travelling to masters meets together ever since. The camaraderie of friendly competition is the attraction for Verth, a former collegiate swimmer at Indiana University.
"I was a crappy swimmer in college, but it got me through dentistry," said Verth. "When university was over, I had a 33-year layoff.
"But in masters swimming, you can make it as competitive as you want it to be. It's fun. And you don't get injured much in swimming."
Connie and Debbie Brill thought it would be fun to compete together in the high jump and would have, too, but Debbie, one of the best in the world at the discipline in the 1970s, tweaked her Achilles tendon moments before the competition began. She had to watch her sister jump -- and win -- in the 50-54 age group, a slightly bittersweet, sisterly moment. But memorable nonetheless.
The Games produced countless unforgettables. Like the Moscow Teapots, a slo-pitch team composed of Russian university professors of modest means who scraped together the funds to make the trip to Edmonton. Ill-equipped on the diamond, however, they were bowled over when an opposing team shelled out about $900 to outfit the Teapots in new ball spikes.
The Masters was an event that featured 95-year-old swimmers, a 94-year-old sprinter and a canoe-polo team called The Honeys, a group of Japanese women who spoke no English but who had a wonderful time in Edmonton nonetheless.
Sure, there was some whinging about a slipshod rowing event, a Chinese-Taiwan flag flap and a paucity of good food concessions at just about every venue. But if you could attend even one Masters event and come away unmoved, well, you have a heart of stone.
Maybe the essence of the Masters was most poignantly illustrated by Donald Jones of Atlanta, Ga. The 1,500-metre bronze medallist was about 20 metres from the finish line in the men's 800-metre final Sunday, a silver medal in his grasp. Then he staggered once, twice and, finally, down he went. He got up, stumbled and belly-flopped again.
"I heard somebody say, 'Get up, you can still finish third!' " said the 74-year-old Jones, gracious and cheerful in his obvious disappointment. "And I did get up."
He sure did. But this time, Jones prudently walked across the finish line -- in fourth place -- to a rousing ovation. Like so many of the 21,000 Masters athletes, Donald Jones kept going, and because he did, his competitive spirit lifted ours just a little.
As sporting spectacles go, the 2005 World Masters Games was charmingly, profoundly and accessibly human. Day after day, Goldy's simple eloquence resonated: "Heck, I can do that."
Yes, you can. We all can.
Thanks for coming, Masters. Hey, maybe see you in Sydney in 2009?