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Olympic podiums have Canadian origin

VANOC will consider history during podium design

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By Clare Ogilvie

Next time you see a Canadian athlete on an Olympic podium — presumably in 2008 — you might give a little thought to the history underfoot. It turns out the platform is a Canadian contribution to the Games.

Professor Robert Barney, founding director of the University of Western Ontario’s International Centre for Olympic Studies, has discovered that today’s Olympic podiums are based on ones used at the first British Empire Games in Hamilton, Ontario in 1930.

Until that time dignitaries awarding Olympic medals were the ones who stood on platforms, while the athletes were below.

“People were getting upset… at the way the awards were presented at the Olympic Games,” said Barney.

“There wasn’t good coordination between the public address systems and the athletes going by the Queen or the King (who awarded the medals). And the ceremonies (were) sort of focused on the bloody person presenting the medals rather than the person getting them. So people started registering their disappointment.”

The manager of Canada’s track and field team at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Melville Marks “Bobbie” Robinson, who also happened to be the organizer of the British Empire Games in Hamilton, saw all this first hand.

He also saw, said Barney, the Amsterdam commemorative Olympic medal, which depicted a male and female athlete on a two-level raised podium jointly clasping the first Olympic torch above a cauldron holding the Olympic flame.

“My theory is that he looked at it, he pondered it and wedded it together with his disenchantment and that of others about the award ceremonies and a light bulb came on,” said Barney who will reveal this theory to an international audience next week at the Beijing Forum 2006, which is co-hosted by the organizing committee for the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 and the University of Peking.

When Robinson got home to Canada he introduced podium use at the Empire Games.

International Olympic Committee President Henri Baillet-Latour saw them first hand when he visited the Hamilton Games, then went on to instruct the organizers of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and the Winter Olympic in Lake Placid to use the Canadian-designed podiums at the medal ceremonies.

Podiums have been used ever since, said Barney, adding that the organizers of each Games try to make them unique. At the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer they were made out of ice, and at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia they were round and coloured for each of the medals they represented.

Barney thinks there is a great opportunity for the organizers of Vancouver and Whistler’s 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics to make the podiums reflect the platform’s Canadian heritage.

“It is coming home to Canada,” he said. “They should be figuring these things out now. The medal ceremonies are now coming way up in terms of public attention and fascination over what they used to be.”

VANOC’s executive vice president of sport, Cathy Priestner, can see the possibilities for the 2010 podiums.

“It’s great to know that Canada has a long history in contributing to the Games, and VANOC is working with all of its partners to help create the conditions and the opportunities for our athletes so that Canada’s future will include Owning the Podium in 2010. Podiums for the 2010 Games will be designed by the Victory Ceremonies department at the Vancouver Organizing Committee, said VANOC spokeswoman Mary Fraser.

Planning will most likely get underway in late 2008 or early 2009 and will include suggestions from other departments within VANOC as well as sport representatives.

“Something to keep in mind is that there will be different ‘types’ of podiums based on individual and team sport requirements,” said Fraser, adding that some will be movable and some will be fixed in place.

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