On Monday, in a downtown Toronto hotel, a group of Canadian athletes and builders will receive votes to join an exclusive club - Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.
No longer the dusty, neglected collection of artifacts that languished at Toronto's Exhibition Place, the Hall will be reborn this summer on Canada Day at Calgary's Olympic Park as a new home for Canada's sports legends - some 500 sport heroes whose stories come to life in interactive displays and videos.
It's deserving of the French term for the hall - Pantheon. Canada's Sports Hall of Fame is not just a museum to hang up Rocket Richard's old Montreal Canadiens sweaters or Karen Magnussen's figure skating outfits. It has become a living part of Canadian sport history.
Some of the expected names are there - cyclist Steve Bauer, who led the Tour de France; hockey stars such as Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, the Conacher brothers Lionel and Charlie and Jean Béliveau; pros such as football quarterback Doug Flutie, whose outstanding career in Canada led selectors to break the tradition of picking only Canadians; inspirational stories such as Rick Hansen, whose Man in Motion world tour captivated Canadians and kicked off recognition of access issues and the need for spinal cord research; Olympic stars such as swimmer Alex Baumann, skier Anne Heggtveit, skater Elvis Stojko, sprinting's former world record holder Donovan Bailey and rowers Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle.
But just as impressive as the lineup inside is the lineup waiting to get in. This year, there were more than 50 athletes and 30 builders who got nominations to the Hall, all with outstanding credentials. Not all will get in. Toronto Maple Leaf captains Ted (Teeder) Kennedy and Dave Keon still aren't in, though few would doubt their leadership credentials.
Canada is richer in sport than we think. There are many to choose from, and this year's crop is no exception. Some may be deferred because they've just retired or may still be active - such as bobsled pilot Pierre Lueders, who is Canada's most decorated slider, speed skaters Cindy Klassen and Jeremy Wotherspoon, curler Colleen Jones, quarterback Damon Allen, skeleton speedster Jeff Pain, hockey stars Brendan Shanahan and Ray Bourque, triathlete Simon Whitfield or Paralympic skier Lauren Woolstencroft.
Some are memorable primarily in statistics and legend, such as the Winnipeg Falcons 1920 Olympic hockey team, goalie Walter (Turk) Broda or defenceman Bob Goldham. Some may have been overlooked because of the position they played, such as Lui Passaglia, a 25-year kicker with the B.C. Lions who set the Canadian Football League points scoring record (3,391 points) with his talented toe.
Others laboured behind the scenes or behind benches as coaches, such as the late hockey coaches Pat Burns and Roger Neilson; or Brian Kilrea, who sent generations of players on their NHL careers as Canada's top junior coach; or they sat on the water on cold mornings as rowing's top man Mike Spracklen did in building Olympic champions. Some designed golf courses that still are played today as Stanley Thompson did, and still others served - and arguably saved - the Olympic movement as Dick Pound did as a marketer of TV rights, corruption investigator and battler against drug use. John Furlong, now chief adviser to Olympic medal funding plan Own the Podium, helped build the Vancouver Olympics and held them together through the crisis of a luger's death.
It's time to celebrate that we are a sports nation. The opening of the new Canada's Sports Hall of Fame this summer would be the perfect time to throw the doors open for more than the usual class of a half-dozen.
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