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A North American Perspective on the Olympics: From Then to Now and a Whole Lot of Weirdness in Between, Part II

The bronze is in the mail. How Canada did and didn't win a medal in men's hockey in 1964.G.D. Maxwell continues his irreverant look at North America in the Olympics.



The goal of Olympism, according to the Fundamental Principles of the Olympics, is to place everywhere sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

But with the Cold War raging and the pharmaceutical industry innovating, the Olympics in the latter half of the 20 th century pretty much devolved into a battle of geopolitical proportions that laid waste to any notions of purity, fundamental fair play and, of course, the pursuit of amateur excellence. But it certainly got weirder and weirder.

1964 : The Winter Games at Innsbruck see the introduction of luge racing. Why? It was the sixties. Billy Kid and James Heuga win silver and bronze for the U.S. in slalom the first U.S. men’s alpine medals; Jean Saubert earns bronze in women’s slalom and shares silver in giant slalom. Their four medals constitute two-thirds of the U.S. total of six.

Canada fails to medal for the first time in hockey, finishing fourth to Czechoslovakia. But changes in the tie-breaking rules, after the competition, were to blame, as was the fact the Olympics were standing in for the World Championships and the European Championships in 1964. As late as last year, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced it would retroactively award the ’64 Canadian team the bronze. It got lost in the mail. But Czechoslovakia doesn’t exist any more; Canada does. Nyah, nyah, nyah.

Canadian Petra Burka, the first woman to land a triple jump, wins bronze in figure skating.

Medal count: USSR 25; U.S. 6; Canada 3.

1964 : Tokyo plays host. U.S. geostationary satellite Syncom 3 beams signals stateside, the first TV program to cross the Pacific. US sprinter Bob Hayes equals the world record in the 100 metres, ten seconds flat. Then he shocks the world with a 100-metre leg in the 4x100 by running it in less than 9 seconds. Don Schollander’s four gold medals in swimming give the U.S. the edge in gold, 36 to the Soviet’s 30. But…

Medal count: USSR 96; U.S. 90; Canada don’t ask.

1968 : Grenoble plays host as the Norwegians finally best the Soviets in the medal count, the first nation to do so since the USSR entered the games. Figure skater Peggy Flemming, 19, wins the U.S.’s only gold medal. And in the first year the IOC allows East and West Germany to compete as separate countries, it also orders the first-ever drug and gender tests of competitors, giving rise to the popular "Hey Fella" salutation directed at the East German women’s team.

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