I grew up in a neighbourhood in Montreal that was nirvana for a sporty kid. We lived on a cul-de-sac and at the end of our street was a schoolyard with baseball diamonds, a playground, and sand pits. My happiest memories are of playing hockey, baseball, football, and whatever other games our little, sheltered world offered.
When the 1976 Olympic games were awarded to Montreal, my life changed. I went from sporty kid to Olympic geek. I read everything I could about the Olympics. Every show-and-tell at school was an opportunity to share my passion about the Games. I told all the great Olympic stories: Jesse Owens showing up Hitler, Abebe Bikila winning the marathon in bare feet, and Bob Beamon making us believe that a man could fly.
It was also the time when the Canadian federal government, through ParticipACTION, launched a national campaign to get Canadians fit. The cornerstone of the campaign was a TV ad that claimed that the average 60-year-old Swede was as healthy as the average 30-year-old Canadian.
Inspired, I began jogging around my neighbourhood. In the mid-’70s, this made me into something of an outcast. The other kids made fun of me. I even had to fight once with a bunch of bullies who would not let me past them.
When the time of the Olympics finally arrived, my friends and I could not afford tickets. At night we watched the events on TV and fell in love with Nadia Comaneci’s perfection. During the day we rode our bikes 13 km to Olympic Stadium. We simply hung out there for much of the two weeks. We felt that we were part of something big and beautiful.
The Montreal Olympics and all the pageantry and publicity that came with them served the purpose that Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, intended: They inspired me to grow my mind and my body.
De Coubertin believed in education and he knew that participating in sport could help children grow intellectually. It’s the old Mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a healthy body) philosophy.
It changed my life. I haven’t stopped moving since.
The slogan of the Rio 2016 summer Olympics is “A New World.” “It is what the Olympic movement is all about, changing the world for the better,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee. Do you believe that Olympics can still inspire change for the better? Do the Games still serve the purpose that de Coubertin intended?