Monthly Archives: August 2016

Olympic Memories

I wasn’t that excited this year before the Olympics started. Probably all the negative reports about conditions in Rio. I don’t know. But then, once it got going, there I was, tuning in every night. I’m sure the strong Canadian performance had a lot to do with it. Penny Oleksiak and the rest of the swimmers; Andre De Grasse and the Canadian track team. But it wasn’t just the Canadians. Watching the young Brazilian duel with the French champion in men’s pole vault was amazingly exciting. Who knew?

Shatto MunichMy earliest Olympic memories are from Munich in 1972. I was still only eight years old; a little under two months away from my ninth birthday. I can’t really remember how much I saw. I was certainly aware of the hostage-taking and eventual murder of the Israeli athletes. And I knew Mark Spitz won seven gold medals. Pretty sure I saw at least one of his races. Probably on Channel 7, ABC from Buffalo, with Jim McKay hosting.

The Munich Games ran from August 26 to September 11, 1972. My grandfather died that August 26. Team Canada and the Soviets played all four Canadian games of the Summit Series between September 2 and September 8. All three of those incidents seem so separate and distinct to me. Funny how our memories work.

Shatto McNaughtonI used to have an infallible memory. Never forgot a thing! Not so any longer now that I’m on the other side of 50. I’m still pretty good, but there’s just way too much, “You know… That guy… With the thing… We saw him in that movie the other night…” (Strange thing is, when I heard that a Canadian won a gold medal in the high jump at Rio, I knew right away that the last Canadian to win it was Duncan McNaughton in 1932, but without looking it up, I honestly can’t tell you the name of this year’s guy!)

It’s funny what I remember about the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Yes, I know Nadia Comaneci was the star with those perfect 10s in gymnastics, but I’m not sure I ever saw her perform. Pretty sure I did see Greg Joy win silver in the high jump, but I may be mixing that up with how many times I’ve seen it since! Then again, I have very distinct memories of U.S. gold medalist Dwight Stones, so I must have been watching. I also remember Lasse Viren winning double gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters (which he had done previously in Munich). But what I remember best from Montreal in 1976 is Cindy Shatto in platform diving.

Shatto Head ShotI’m not sure why. It may be because she was the daughter of Toronto Argos legend Dick Shatto … but he had retired long before I started watching football. It could be because she was 19 and pretty and I was a 12-year-old boy. (Legendary Vancouver sportswriter Jim Taylor once wrote, “the Canadian diving championships caper was a bonanza for girl-watchers because when Cindy Shatto walked by, you had to book space to fall into the pool.”)

Shatto finished fifth and out of the medals in platform diving at Montreal in 1976. Our whole family was watching (or at least, my dad and I were) and I remember fans booing the judges as she fell out of second place in the second half of the competition. I expected to see a lot more about that when I looked up the stories from that night. The Gazette in Montreal said nothing about the controversy, quoting Shatto as saying: “I feel all right. Just about what I expected.”

Montreal Gazette, July 26, 1976.

The Globe and Mail in Toronto had even less to say about it. It was almost enough to make me doubt my memories, but the Toronto Star told it the way I recall. “Shatto had been second at the half-way mark of the eight-dive contest,” wrote Len Coates, “but slipped back on some questionable decisions by judges, who were loudly booed by a crowd estimated at 5,000.

Some of it was good, some was terrible,” said Shatto of the judging. “Some dives I saw got way more than they deserved and some got way less… [but] fifth in the world isn’t too bad. I can’t complain.


Shatto was more open about her feelings in Paul Patton’s Where Are They Now Column in the Globe and Mail in 1987. Back in 1976, countries with divers in the finals also were allowed to have judges handling the scoring. “There was a lot of controversy about that and they changed the rules after,” Shatto said. “It was won by a Soviet but they say I should have gotten a bronze or a silver. Finishing fifth was a disappointment. I had worked so hard for the Olympics. I was peaking at the right time. This meant everything to me and I had put my whole life into diving.

I didn’t know it until I was writing this story, but Cindy Shatto died of lung cancer back in 2011. She was only 54.

Ben Johnson Owes Me $200

Very exciting to watch the Men’s 100-meter final on Sunday night. Nice to see Andre De Grasse come through on the big stage. Gotta like his chances for gold in 2020 … although a lot can happen in four years.

sportExciting as this race was, let’s face it. If you’re old enough to remember, it was nothing like the thrill of Friday night, September 23, 1988. Ben Johnson’s win over Carl Lewis seemed like one of those defining “where were you when” moments we’d always remember. I guess it still is – but not for the right reasons.

I watched the race late that night Friday night in the basement of a friend’s house. When I woke up on Saturday, still buzzing with the excitement of it, I wrote a story about the history of Canadian sprinters (Bobby Kerr, Percy Williams, Harry Jerome) that I then submitted to the Toronto Star.

There was no email in those days, and I wish I could remember for sure, but I must have driven down to the Toronto Star building later that day, or some time on Sunday, to deliver my story. What I do remember for certain was calling Gerry Hall, the Toronto Star sports editor, on Monday. Did he like the story? Was he interested?

Toronto Star stories on Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25, 1988.

Yes, and yes! But then he told me that they’d just gotten word that someone in Seoul had tested positive for steroids. When it turned out to be Ben Johnson, well … let’s just say there was no longer any interest in my story.

Front page of the Toronto Star, September 27, 1988.

Upon Further Review … Fastball (2016)

Barbara and I recently watched the documentary Fastball. Loved it! As a review this past spring in the Los Angeles Times noted, “You don’t have to be a baseball fanatic or for that matter a historian or a physicist to appreciate [this] fittingly zippy tribute to the art of the pitch.”

Fastball PosterjpgNarrated by Kevin Costner, filmmaker Jonathan Hock (who directed the ESPN 30 for 30 episode about The Miracle on Ice, among his many credits) uses an impressive cast of baseball Hall of Famers to discuss the fastest pitchers of all time. The film also explains the science of how someone can throw the ball at the very upper limits of human mechanics, and how someone else can still manage to hit a pitch whose speed is at the very edge of how quickly a human being can physically see and react. Fascinating!

Plenty of today’s fastest pitchers are featured, and there’s also the sad story of 1960s minor league phenom Steve Dalkowski, who could never master his control. But the movie goes all the way back to Walter Johnson, who pitched 20 years in the Majors from 1907 to 1927 with the Washington Senators.

Virtually everyone of his era agreed that Walter Johnson was the fastest pitcher they had ever seen. As early as 1912, his speed was measures scientifically by the U.S. Army … who tracked him at 122 feet per second. That was considered astonishing at the time, but it works out to only 83.2 miles per hour – which struck me as pretty disappointing for such a legendary fastballer. But more on that in a bit.

When Bob Feller burst on the scene 80 years ago this summer as a 17-year-old phenom, he quickly became the new fastball king. Could he throw harder than Walter Johnson? Perhaps you’ve seen the old film clips of Feller firing his fastball alongside a speeding motorcycle doing 86 miles per hour, but Feller was also given a more scientific rating by the U.S. Military. In 1946, his speed was determined to be 98.6 miles per hour. Now that’s more like it!

Fastball Feller

Feller had begun his career at about the same time that Jesse Owens won the 100 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in a time of 10.3 seconds. The current world record of 9.58 seconds was set by Usain Bolt in 2009. The film points out that if fastballs had improved at a similar rate, there would be dozens of guys throwing 120 miles per hour these days. But, of course, there aren’t.

In 1974, Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to be clocked while he was pitching in an actual game. Radar tracked him at 100.8 miles per hour in 1974 — making him the fastest pitcher ever. Aroldis Chapman currently has that distinction, hitting 105.1 mph in 2010 and again just recently on July 18. But here’s where the measurements get interesting.

Back in 1912, Walter Johnson’s 83.2 pitch was clocked about 7.5 feet beyond the 60-foot-6-inch distance from the mound to home plate. Feller’s pitch was timed just in front of home plate, and Ryan’s at about 10 feet in front. Today’s modern radar guns record the speed of a pitch at about 10 feet from the pitcher’s hand … some 40 to 58 feet prior to where Johnson, Feller and Ryan were measured. It might not sound like a lot, but any extra distance allows gravity to slow down the speed of the ball as it moves through the air.

Making adjustments for the different distances (1 mile per hour for every 5.5 feet, says the science guy), Walter Johnson’s fastball jumps from 83.2 to 93.8 miles per hour. That’s a little more like it! Feller’s 98.6 improves to an incredible 107.6 mph. And Nolan Ryan? He clocks in at 108.5.

So take that, modern flamethrowers!