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INSTANT REPLAY: Breaching Olympic protocol
It was just one moment in time – frozen in the photos you see here – but a moment like no other.
Yes, receiving an Olympic gold medal is rare enough. Yet how it was presented made it rarer still.
Canada won exactly one lonely Winter Olympics gold medal in the 16 years less a day between the gold captured by skier Nancy Greene at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics in France (on Feb. 15, 1968) and the gold earned by speed skater Gaétan Boucher at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics in Yugoslavia (Feb. 14, 1984).
That’s one gold in 192 months or, if you really want to be precise, a total of 5,843 days.
However something extra special happened in February 1976 in Innsbruck, Austria – on Friday, the 13th, no less – exactly 38 years ago today and almost exactly in the middle of that barren stretch of relative futility (Karen Magnussen did get a silver, Canada’s lone 1972 Olympic medal in Sapporo, Japan, while Boucher and skier Steve Podborski picked up silver and bronze in the 1980 Games at Lake Placid, New York.)
You see, it was on that so-called unlucky day that Kathy Kreiner copped Olympic gold in the hills above the Tyrolean village of Axamer Lizum, 20 kilometres southwest of Innsbruck.
We could go into detail here, recounting how Kathy – born in Timmins, Ont., as the youngest of the six children of Dr. Harold Kreiner (Canada’s ski team doctor at the 1966 worlds in Chile and 1968 Olympics in Grenoble) – won the 1976 giant slalom over 44 other world-class skiers from 17 nations. Her time of 1:29.13 was 12/100ths of a second faster than runner-up Rosi Mittermaier of Germany who had already won the downhill and slalom and seemed on a roll to complete the first-ever sweep of the alpine events.
But that’s not the story. As special as Kathy’s victory was, we’re going to zero in on what happened after the race was all over because the medal ceremony presented some drama and a controversial climax.
Kathy is now Kathy Kreiner-Phillips, having married Dave Phillips, a freestyle skier and coach of Canada’s freestylers in the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Dave grew up in North Van, attending Queen Mary Elementary until the end of Grade 3, before his family relocated to Coquitlam. In 1990, the year after their marriage, Dave and Kathy moved to North Van to be near the mountains and water (they both still compete in masters water skiing) and to raise their three now-young-adult children, Nelson, Liam and Michela, in Deep Cove where they all graduated from Seycove secondary.
Okay, but it’s the medal ceremony you want to know about, right?
Actually there were two medal ceremonies because at that time the alpine races counted as both the world championships and the Olympics.
“The world championships medal ceremony was first and was more casual so I just wore my regular clothes,” Kathy recalls while reminiscing the other day. “It was held in the town centre, in the plaza, right underneath the Golden Roof [an Innsbruck landmark dating to 1493 that covers the royal box used for centuries by emperors to view festivals in the square below]. There was a huge crowd of people and I just remember getting there just a little bit late and having to get through all these people to get to the ceremony.”
The Olympic ceremony, held in the main arena, was a bigger problem for Kathy.
“The Olympic one was a lot more structured and organized. They even had you in this makeup area and you walked out on this red carpet.”
The difficulty was that she had no proper official Canadian outfit to wear. Being the last day of the skiing competition, the skiers had had to pack their bags early and their luggage had already been taken in preparation for return to Canada.
She doesn’t know whose outfit she eventually wore, but one of the Canadian officials was able to come up with a Canadian jacket and slacks that fit her before it was time to head off for the ceremony.
As it turned out, the medals were being presented – appropriately enough – by James Worrall, Canada’s flag bearer at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, a former president of the Canadian Olympic Association (1964-68) and a member of the International Olympic Committee (1967-89).
In his excitement and obvious emotion for this special Canadian moment, Worrall did something he wasn’t supposed to do. After hanging the gold medal around Kathy’s neck, he shook her hand and then spontaneously kissed her on the cheek.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Kathy says now, mulling
over both that moment so long ago and the photos she has of the kiss.
Did he kiss her on both cheeks? “I think just one which is more of a Canadian way.”
Worrall wrote his memoirs in 2000 titled My Olympic Journey. “I had the honour and the pleasure of presenting the medal to Kathy Kreiner,” he explains in the book. “In my happiness and enthusiasm, I had given Kathy a kiss after I placed the gold medal around her neck. Then, of course, I had to kiss the other two medallists. Apparently this was simply ‘not done’ in the unwritten rules of IOC protocol. Afterward, [IOC president Lord] Killanin gently reprimanded me.”
However, Worrall – who was guilty of kissing three women in the space of perhaps 120 seconds which would be a record set of smootches even on The Bachelor these days – did include a photo of the kiss in his book.
I must confess I can totally relate to Worrall. You see, I had a similar experience although on a much, much smaller stage.
During my 31 years as co-ordinator of athletics for the North Shore Secondary Schools’ Athletic Association – the organization which runs all high school sports from Deep Cove to Squamish – I would often make trophy presentations at North Shore championships.
When Balmoral Barons and Handsworth Royals tied 0-0 in the North Shore junior girls’ field hockey final on Oct. 30, 1986, at Hugo Ray Park, I had the perfect opportunity – and reason – to kiss the captains.
The Balmoral captain was my daughter Christine Corben (now Steunenberg). Handsworth’s captain was Lisa Eastman who, along with Christine, played on the North Shore Metros community soccer team of which I was the team manager.
You should know that I never got an admonition from the minister of education, let alone the superintendent of schools.
-This is episode 497 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.