Doug Anakin had a superb seat from which to enjoy Canada’s only gold medal at the 1964 Winter Olympics.
The high-school teacher tucked in behind driver Vic Emery as a bobsled named Canada 1 rocketed down a Tyrolean mountainside. On every bump, the teacher’s helmeted head bounced between the pilot’s shoulder blades. Mr. Anakin joined teammates John Emery, a plastic surgeon who was Vic’s older brother, and brakeman Peter Kirby in leaning in unison on each of the course’s 14 treacherous curves.
Mr. Anakin, who has died at 89, was both muscle and ballast in one of Canada’s most unlikely Olympic successes.
Canadian officials only reluctantly allowed the team to compete at the Games.
“They were worried we would just take up beds in the village,” Mr. Anakin once told The Globe and Mail.
The quartet were making Canada’s first appearance in a competition traditionally dominated by Europeans. Canada had neither a bobsleigh program nor a bobsleigh run. The team practised on weekends when they could travel from Montreal to Lake Placid, N.Y. They raced in a second-hand bobsled purchased for $800 and paid their own way to the Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria.
Vic Emery’s prediction of a gold medal had been ridiculed by Canada’s chef de mission at the Games, who dismissed the likelihood of a Canadian win. “If they do,” Frank Shaughnessy Jr. said, “it doesn’t say much for the sport.”
Douglas Thomas Anakin was born on Nov. 6, 1930, in the Southwestern Ontario city of Chatham (now Chatham-Kent). He was the first child born to the former Mary Louisa Thomas and Leslie Anakin. His father worked at the International Harvester factory, as did his uncles and grandfather.
While on a skiing holiday in the Alps in 1961, Mr. Anakin met Baron Eduard von Falz-Fein, a Russian-born businessman who had competed at the 1936 Winter Olympics while representing Liechtenstein. The baron talked him into trying luge, a daredevil sport known as tobogganing in North America and as rodel in Europe. At 5-foot-7, 150 pounds, the Canadian was playfully nicknamed the Rodel Runt by his competitors.
Just a year later, Mr. Anakin joined Purvis McDougall as the first Canadians to compete at the luge world championships. Mr. McDougall finished 70th and Mr. Anakin 76th of 79 competitors at Krynica, a Polish spa resort in the Silesian Beskids. The pair finished last of 22 teams in luge doubles.
Two years later, the sport made its Olympic debut and Mr. Anakin became Canada’s first Olympic luger, although he dropped out of the competition after two runs with a minor injury and a scheduling conflict with bobsleigh.
Mr. Anakin, who had been a varsity wrestler at Queen’s University in Kingston, helped push the heavy, four-man sled for about 50 metres, a grunting, boisterous effort not unlike starting a snowbound car in winter. His upper body and leg strength, combined with his compact stature and ability to nimbly leap aboard a moving bobsled in unison with teammates, made him a superb addition to the team.
With Vic Emery’s lucky hat tucked away on board and with a countdown cry of “One. Two. Three. Push! Push! Push!” the Canadian quartet launched down the mountainside of Patscherkofel along a treacherous 1,506-metre run at Igls, outside Innsbruck, in a track record time of one minute, 2.99 seconds. In a sport in which victory is separated from defeat in less than the time of a blink of an eye, the Canadians had nearly a half-second advantage over the second-fastest sled after the first of four heats.
On the final run, with 10,000 spectators lining the course, the sled nearly crashed coming out of the 12th corner, the brakeman’s elbow slamming against the ice-covered concrete wall. Despite the miscue, the Canadians once again had the fastest time in the heat to win the gold medal with an aggregate time of 4:14.46, more than a second faster than their Austrian rivals. An Italian team led by the legendary Eugenio Monti claimed the bronze medal.
Mr. Anakin later toured department stores with the bobsled and dined with the governor-general at Rideau Hall.
He retired from competition in 1967, although he offered guidance on the design and construction of a luge course in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, and served as the Canadian coach for the sport at the 1972 Winter Olympics at Sapporo, Japan.
Mr. Anakin was hired in 1972 to create an outdoor recreation program at John Abbott College in the Montreal suburb of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. He guided students in skiing, canoeing and rock climbing, as well as camping in both summer and winter. Mr. Anakin also owned an eponymous sporting goods store in suburban Beaconsfield. He retired from teaching in 1989 and moved to British Columbia’s scenic Columbia Valley.
Mr. Anakin, a resident of Invermere, B.C., died on April 25. He leaves Mary-Jean Anakin, his wife of 56 years. He also leaves two daughters, five grandchildren and a sister, Shirley Templeton.
Mr. Anakin has been inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1964), the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1991), the Panthéon des Sports du Québec (1998), the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame (2006) and the John Abbott College Hall of Distinction (2019).
The shocking Olympic gold medal came only after he and the other bobsledders had spent an estimated $6,000 each on travel, training and equipment in the years preceding the Games.
At the finish line of the bobsleigh run, the Canadian team raised Mr. Anakin to their shoulders. The jubilant athlete threw his helmet into the air. It smacked against the forehead of an unwitting spectator, who raised no objection. The British two-man crew, who had won gold in their event, told the Canadians they had high expectations for the night’s victory party.
“We had over 70 bottles of champagne,” Robin Dixon told the Canadians. “But we were only a two-man crew. There are four of you so we expect at least 140 bottles.”