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COLUMN: World has changed in many ways since having front-row seat at Montreal Olympics

It was nothing but cauliflower ears and chocolate-glazed donuts when this BarrieToday reporter worked at 1976 Summer Olympics
montreal AdobeStock_36101687 2017
Montreal skyline by night.

“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” screamed Ralph Lockwood through the clock radio, that staple of the 1970s bedroom, as it came to life summoning me into another day in Montreal.

Lockwood was the famed morning man at CKGM, the Top-40 radio station of an island city preparing once again to open its doors to the world less than a decade after hosting the spectacular Expo 67.

But the world in 1976 was quite different, especially in La Belle Province. 

Those heady days of freedom and promise of the 1960s Montreal, which culminated with John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous bed-in for peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969, quickly folded to the world’s colder realities. 

For a kid growing up in the then-anglophone enclave of the western tip of the municipality 20 miles away (we were using the Imperial scale at the time) in an area then void of public transit called the West Island, the unprecedented fear of the FLQ crisis with its martial law imposing curfews and other restrictions, the “white elephant” of the Mirabel Airport, Henry Morgentaler’s repeated prosecutions for performing abortions and language tensions dominated, forcing out the freedoms and the spirit enjoyed a decade earlier.

The 1976 Summer Olympics promised to be a respite from all those tensions.

In Montreal’s northwestern quadrant, a robust wrestling program had developed at an otherwise unspectacular high school that reportedly took its name from a popular comic book  thanks to suggestions from elementary school students, some of them probably finding their way later to Woodstock. Given that the active aspect of the sport was gender-restricted, the only role left to the female students was that of timers and scorers.

The wrestling coach, who doubled as a math teacher, was so entrenched in the sport that he was named director of wrestling for the '76 Olympics. His crew at the Pierre Charbonneau Centre? The school’s wrestlers, timers and scorers along with the school’s volleyball teams, both male and female, who served as security at the Olympic wrestling events.

It was an entrenched experience, nothing but hard mats, cauliflower ears and a steady diet of chocolate-glazed donuts from the concession stand that summer. Teenagers, eh? The female members of our crew were handed white culottes with a rainbow-striped, elasticized waist band and beige crew-neck T-shirts with the Olympic logo as uniforms and the familiar identification tags with photos.

And unlike the other sports, most of the working crew and even some of the wrestlers were familiar, since we had all been to so many wrestling events prior to the big one.

During the Games, we rarely ventured out of the wrestling building and only managed to make it to the Olympic Stadium for the closing ceremonies following the completion of wrestling, and all events. Catching the event live and in person was made even more spectacular thanks to the discovery of a $20 bill under my seat  although I can’t recall exactly what I was doing under the seat. 

We caught the buzz of Nadia Comaneci’s amazing success in gymnastics, but somehow escaped the fears of a repeat of the '72 Olympics in Munich, which brought heightened security.

Sure, the Montreal Olympics brought with it some lingering headaches, like unprecedented debt, but it also reintroduced that joie de vivre for which the city is known, along with some hope for a bunch of high school kids looking to find their way in the world.

Marg. Bruineman is a staff reporter with BarrieToday. 

About the Author: Marg. Bruineman

Marg. Bruineman is an award-winning journalist who focuses on justice issues and human interest stories
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