O, Manitoba!

On July 28, the Games of The XXX Olympiad will officially open in London.

Currently, the Canadian Olympic team has five Manitobans named to the team. Winnipegger and former U of M Bison Desiree Scott as well as The Pas-born Chelsea Stewart are teammates on the Canadian women’s soccer team. Also competing at the Olympics are cyclist Clara Hughes, 1500-metre runner Nicole Sifuentes and rowers Kevin Kowalyk and Janine Hanson.

In August, the Paralympic Games will also be held in London and Manitobans will also represent Canada such as Niverville’s Jared Funk in wheelchair rugby, Lorette’s Joey Johnson in wheelchair basketball and former Winnipegger Michelle Stilwell in wheelchair racing.

All of these athletes will carry on the tradition of Manitobans representing Canada in both the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games,a tradition that goes back over a century.

Manitoba’s first-ever Olympic medalists were also golden. In the 1904 Games in St. Louis, the Winnipeg Shamrocks lacrosse team won the inaugural Olympic lacrosse competition (consisting of the Shamrocks, a host team and another Canadian team) and the gold medal. Lacrosse would be dropped as an Olympic sport after the 1908 Games. It wouldn’t be the last time a Manitoba team won Olympic gold, however, as the Winnipeg Falcons hockey team, in the only hockey tournament held at a Summer Olympics, won the gold medal in 1920. It was also Canada’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in hockey.

Dauphin’s Jimmy Ball, a former pharmacy student at the U of M, was one of the world’s best runners in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Ball won two medals at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam: silver in the 400m and bronze in the 4x400m relay. Four years later in Los Angeles, Ball took home bronze again in the 4x400m relay.

Manitobans would continue to achieve greatness later in the century. Winnipeg judoka Mark Berger won a bronze medal, adding to Canada’s record medal count in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He became only the second Canadian ever to win a medal in judo. In the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Brandon’s Angela Chalmers won a bronze in the women’s 3000m. It would be 16 years until another Canadian woman won an Olympic medal in track and field.

In 1996, Hughes won double bronze in road cycling at Atlanta Games. At Sydney in 2000, Dominique Bosshart of Winnipeg won Canada’s first ever medal in taekwondo, a bronze. Track cyclist Tanya Dubnicoff had top-ten finishes at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.

However, Manitobans have shown more success in the Paralympic Games. Funk has won two medals (silver in 2004, bronze in 2008), Johnson has three medals (gold in 2000 and 2004, bronze in 2008), and Stilwell has won gold medals in both wheelchair basketball and wheelchair racing and is looking for five career Paralympic gold medals.

While every athlete mentioned thus far have all achieved great things, their accomplishments pale in comparison to three Manitoban swimmers’ performances in the pool.

Visually impaired swimmer Tim McIsaac was one of the best Paralympic athletes ever. In four Paralympic Games from 1976 to 1988, McIsaac won 28 total medals (15 of them gold), shattering many world records in the process. Following in McIsaac’s footsteps was another visually impaired swimmer Kirby Cote, who won a total of 13 medals in the 2004 and 2008 Games, most notably five gold medals in the 2004 Games in Athens. Bilateral amputee Joanne Mucz also won five gold medals at the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona, all world record performances and was named Canada’s flag bearer in the closing ceremonies.