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A triumphant Olympic homecoming ... just in case you missed it

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 11:08 AM

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You’d have to dig around in the sports pages of Canada’s national newspaper to find any word of it.

But buried near the box scores in the Globe and Mail, the persistent and vigilant Beverley Smith filed a story about Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze and his horse Hickstead winning the main event at the Royal.

Heck, the stands were full at the Ricoh Coliseum and there were multiple standing ovations when the equestrians who won team silver and individual gold this past August in Hong Kong were introduced before the World Cup Grand Prix. But the Toronto Star newspaper made no mention of Lamaze winning the thrilling jumpoff that followed. There was a picture taken prior to the event, but missing was an account of the drama that unfolded.

I listened to the morning drive-time radio sportscasts and once more, no mention of Lamaze’s heroics down at the Royal.

Then again, our coverage on the main CBC television network will be tape delayed, available only at the week’s end when Eric Lamaze and his magnificent horse are winging their way to back to Europe to capture more brilliance in the show jumping firmament.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re collectively missing the boat. Or to put it in more appropriate terms, following the great spectacles of Canadian sport with blinders on.

Here, we had the greatest jumping horse in the world - a Canadian Olympic phenomenon - on display at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in the downtown of the country’s largest metropolis and he almost slipped by unnoticed.

How does that happen?

Hickstead is a smallish stallion, 12 years of age, who has won everything there is to win around the globe in the last two seasons. He is quite simply the pre-eminent competitor in his sport. Aggressive, calculating and responsive, this horse gets the job done time and again and he does it in thrilling style. He is fast and meticulous and under the gifted hand of Eric Lamaze. Hickstead is universally regarded as being the great Canadian equestrian success story.

For my money, Lamaze has to be given serious consideration as Canada’s athlete of the year. He has captured, with this horse, the biggest and most lucrative prizes in show jumping. He has won more than a million dollars in each of the last two competitive seasons including the sport’s richest event, the CN International, out at the splendid Spruce Meadows near Calgary.

Add to that his most noteworthy contribution to Canadian sporting lore, the Olympic individual gold medal. Not to be forgotten, however, is the fact that Lamaze was essential to the team silver that Canada won in Hong Kong. It made him an Olympian who dominated the 2008 Games in his sport. No other Canadian can claim those credentials.

So why is it that an Olympic homecoming of this magnitude all but escapes out mainstream sporting press? After all, this was a one-time appearance in Toronto, Lamaze’s hometown and the place where Hickstead was schooled in top-flight competition.

Before the Grand Prix, Lamaze noted that he could have been competing for more money somewhere else. “But I wanted not to miss the Royal,” he told our host Karin Larsen. “This was where Hickstead grew up and I thought it was appropriate that he should be here.”

Seems to me, a lot of us might have done well to pay more attention. Lamaze and Hickstead received a hero’s welcome from the faithful and then they delivered a spectacular performance in order to be victorious on home turf.

What a great story!

Too bad we had to wade through all the copy about a soon to be unemployed hockey general manager who is considering a migration from California, only to find that this jewel at the Royal was left uncovered.

Eric Lamaze and Hickstead are great champions who were, for a fleeting moment, in our midst.

Just in case you missed it.

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