Around the Bay winners deserve recognitionApril 1, 2011
By Rory Gilfillan
Unless you were Kenyan runner Josephat Ongeri trying to make up the 33-second gulf that separated him from the leader, chances are you didn’t know about Kitchener’s Derek Nakluski’s commanding win in North America’s oldest foot race. A Canadian had not won the Around the Bay race in 15 years and like a tree falling in the forest, for most Canadians it didn’t happen.
Despite the fact that most Canadians run or have tried running at some point in their lives, coverage of the sport in the mainstream media has been relegated to the Life and Arts section of both national newspapers. If running were archery or lawn bowling, sports in other words, that have a small following, the lack of media coverage for the contenders in the sport would be understandable.
But this isn’t archery or lawn bowling or even darts. This is running, a sport practiced by millions of Canadians and an endeavour that up until the early 1980s fielded the kind of contenders that made the world stand up and take notice. The last time Canada sent someone to the Olympic marathon was in Sydney and the last time a Canadian contended in Boston was before many runners were even born. The media should be at least wondering what’s happened to Canadian distance running in the intervening thirty years.
But they haven’t.
That isn’t to say that the national dailies aren’t interested in running, it’s just not directed towards the athletes who win. Indeed, both the Globe and the Post have weekly columns and even the Peterborough Examiner has dipped its toes into these tepid waters by celebrating the trials and plodding tribulations of the Canadian everyman and woman.
Nakluski’s win didn’t fit with this kind of storyline. He wasn’t a recovering drug addict or recently rescued from a mine. Nor was he blind. He likely never struggled to quit smoking or even grappled with his weight. His mission on Sunday was singular and if he had a cause it was of the most primitive and primal nature; the need to go faster than the guy in front of him. It’s doubtful he was in the depths of self-actualization as he ascended the escarpment in those final gruelling miles but rather, wandering how far back the other guy was and whether or not he could hang on to the lead. More simply put, he was too damn fast for the morality tale that is the sure-fire harbinger of media attention.
On Monday morning no one asked Nakluski what he eats for breakfast or how he trains or how many hard miles he runs in a week because beyond the weekly saccharine advice for the neophyte jogger neither the Post nor the Globe cared. Most recently the latter publication seemed to set a new low in a desperately shallow pool by providing the inane mantras of such running luminaries as a CBC meteorologist, TSO’s chief percussionist and (my personal favourite) the founder and president of something called “Cake Beauty.” In that same week Canadian media deemed it insufficiently newsworthy to bother reporting that Dylan Wykes and Reid Coolsaet had contended in the renowned New York Half Marathon, placing 11th and 13th (respectively) among some of the best distance runners in the world. It’s hard to imagine a 62 minute half-marathon not being considered worthy of some kind of mention but there it is.
McLuhan was right, the media is the message and the message for a generation raised on the self-esteem sophistry of Oprah is that less, in every aspect of the sport, is always more. There are days now when it feels like the forces of the popular “everyone’s a winner” marketing campaign and the requisite celebration of the five-hour marathon at the expense of real achievement, is all that there ever was.
Someday soon a Canadian athlete is going to break Drayton’s Canadian marathon record set in the 1970s.
Will anyone care?