Athens bound: Guess who’s going to the Olympics

The Olympics is a chance for world-class athletes to compete and for others to make it possible for them to compete. York people will be part of it all, including two champion athletes, a sports therapist, a sports advocate and a judge.

Who’s competing

York University will be represented in the Games by current world champion trampolinist Karen Cockburn (right), a second-year economics student, and alumnus and fellow trampolinist Mathieu Turgeon (below left, Kinesiology and Health Science ’03). Both athletes won bronze medals at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and train at the Richmond Hill Skyriders Club under Canada’s national trampoline coach David Ross.

Cockburn, as the reigning world champion, is a favourite for the gold medal in Athens and placed first in four World Cup events this year. Turgeon, Canadian men’s champion and a competitor on the World Cup circuit, says the inclusion of trampoline in the Olympics has give the sport a real boost. “People know it’s a real sport now not something you do in the backyard,” said Turgeon. “Since the Olympics the sport has really taken off.”

The pair also tour with the Skyriders acrobatic trampoline team that thrills crowds at North American professional sporting events.

Who’s representing the COC

Patricia Murray, York’s director of sport and recreation, hops on the plane today for her sixth summer Olympics. As Canadian Olympic Committee vice-president she will be wearing her official cap attending events and press conferences.

Attending the Olympics “gives me the goosebumps every time I think about it,” says Murray. “It’s an incredible experience to be in the presence of such outstanding human beings. We’re talking about the best in the world, 10,000 people whose level of excellence and quality of performance is the highest in the world and who have never been together in one place before.”

This year will be significant for the future of sports in Canada, suggests Murray. This is the 100th anniversary of Canadian Olympic sport and the Olympics is taking place in its historical birthplace. “I think it will also be a good barometer of where we are in Olympic sport,” said a not-very-optimistic Murray. Canada’s overall performance will underscore how investment in sport is “sorely lacking,” she said. “Canada is also lacking in a system of sports that not only gets people participating but gets leading athletes to be the best in the world.”

Murray (right) coached York’s synchronized swimming and badminton teams for 20 years and led the Canadian synchro team at four Summer Games from 1984 to 1996. She has received numerous awards for her volunteer work on behalf of sport at the national and international levels and was at the forefront of the effort to see Canada’s Sylvie Frechette awarded the gold medal for synchronized swimming that she lost due to a judge’s error in the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

Murray has also been named Chef de Mission for the Canadian team heading to the 23rd world university games next year in Turkey.

Who’s soothing those sore muscles

York’s athletic therapy director Cindy Hughes is already in Athens, ensconced in her clinic in the Olympic Village with a team of 25 chiropractors, massage, physio and athletic therapists since July 30. She is chief athletic therapist for the Canadian team as she was at the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City two years ago.

Left: Cindy Hughes (right) with 1992 Olympic downhill gold medalist Kerrin Lee-Gartner

Athens is different than Salt Lake City, though. “It’s absolutely huge,” she said in a phone interview Friday. And “it’s got a Mediterranean feel to it. It’s warm but there’s always a nice breeze.” Security doesn’t appear to be quite as stringent, though that could change once more athletes arrive. A week before the games were to begin Aug. 13, the village was only 25 per cent occupied. 

Hughes has been part of such therapy teams at international games since 1989. She’s primed sore and injured athletes for the Francophone games in Morocco and Argentina, Pan Am Games in Argentina, World University Games in Buffalo and Majorca. In 1998, she was part of the medical team serving Canadian athletes at the Winter Olympics in Nagano. As always, she’s anxious to “see Canadian athletes have their best possible performance. That’s what it’s all about.”

There are two events she doesn’t want to miss in Athens: the archery competition, because it’s in the old Olympic marble stadium where the marathon is going to end; and shotput, because it takes place in Olympia, the town where the games originated.

Selecting her team and setting up the clinic have taken months. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she says. 

Who’s judging

Tamara Bompa (right) is heading to Athens Aug. 19 to judge rhythmic gymnastics. It is the sixth time she has judged the sport at the Olympic Games. One of the top gymnastics judges in the world, the former Romanian junior national gymnastics champion has been adjudicating national and international competitions for almost 20 years. She coached Canada’s national gymnastics team from 1972 to 1976 and volunteered for 20 years with the National Federation of Gymnastics. Provincial teams compete for the Tamara Bompa Cup.

Though she competed in artistic gymnastics – balance beam, uneven bars and floor exercises – she switched to coaching rhythmic gymnastics – ball, ribbon, hoop, clubs and skipping rope routines – when she immigrated to Canada in the late 1950s.

In Athens, she will watch gymnasts rehearse for the competition, and spend time with other judges clarifying rules. “Judging changes from one Olympic Games to the next,” says Bompa, “because the sport itself changes. From 20 years ago, it is different than what we are doing today. It’s the same for other sports, too.”

The challenge for a judge is to be as objective as possible, she says. “You make certain opinions concerning the athletes during rehearsal, but you don’t know what to expect during competition because you’re dealing with human beings. It’s quite unpredictable.”

Winning medals is less important than the chance to compete against top-calibre athletes, suggests Bompa. “I completely reject that you go just to win medals. You go for the spirit of competition.”

The Summer Games are also a chance to catch up with old friends, says Bompa, referring to the tiny clutch of judges qualified to assess at the international level. At 65, she has retired from teaching gymnastics and dance at York but will continue to travel the world judging about four competitions a year.