The significance of the year is not lost on thoroughbred racing and Woodbine Racetrack it seems.
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, The Queen's Plate and the Olympics in London this summer. It all comes together this weekend as Canadians celebrate certain threads weaving through our sporting history.
So it was that the Mark Tewksbury, Canada's Olympic chef de mission, made the draw for the 153rd running of the "Gallop for the Guineas" on a scorching hot day in the walking ring of the venerable track where the three-year-old colts and fillies will run Sunday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 4:30 p.m. ET).
Tewksbury looked very much the statesman and, in many ways, that's the role he's carving out for the Olympic team leader in this country. A gold-medal swimmer in the 100-metre backstroke at the Barcelona Games in 1992, Tewksbury's gone on to be one of sport's most accomplished advocates and elevates the position he now assumes.
"It's an ambassadorial role, but in the past, I'm not sure many Canadians understood what the chef de mission actually does," " Tewksbury reflected. "It's quite simply to lead and it's important to bring credibility to the position.
"I think the athletes get that. They know that I've been there in terms of my competitive career and that now I'm here for them."
Indeed, the folks running things at Woodbine are making the leap. This, in spite of the fact that Dan Loiselle, the legendary voice of Canadian thoroughbred racing, made his introduction of Tewksbury with a touch of intended humour.
"As the chef, does that mean you cook the meals?" Loiselle quipped.
He got the requisite chuckle from the crowd, but knew very well the quality of the individual he was dealing with.
"I did some research into Mark's leadership background," Loiselle said. "When I heard how he motivated the Canadian athletes in advance of the Vancouver Games [and] after the death of the Georgian luger, I said to myself, 'This is the guy!'"
Woodbine Entertainment Group CEO Nick Eaves is struggling with the current economic crisis confronting the horse racing industry, in light of the Ontario government's intention to end the slots-at-racetracks program in 2013. He fears a threat to the long-term survival of the historic Queen's Plate itself.
Still, Eaves was encouraged to have Tewksbury symbolically on board for the kickoff to this iconic Canadian sporting event.
"He's a great leader, a proven performer and a strong Canadian," Eaves said. "To have him supportive of our Queen's Plate and our efforts here means the world to us."
It is heartening to see Canadian sport drawing together in a very special year. The Olympics will bring so much focus and attention to Canadian athletes performing abroad. On previous occasions, the stars don't register with the Canadian consciousness until medals are won.
The glory tends to be fleeting.
By personalizing the role of chef de mission, Mark Tewksbury has, in many ways, given a recognizable face to Canada's Olympic effort -- and the team will be better for it because the country now has a pied piper to follow throughout the journey of the Games experience.
"I'm loving it," Tewksbury beamed. "I'm in direct contact with several of our strong medal contenders and I'm sharing my experience.
"A big part of my role is to be Canada's ultimate cheerleader, but there's a tremendous amount of responsibility and a lot of hard work. For 17 days, I'm the leader of the Canadian Olympic organization and the buck will begin and end with me."
There's a reason why horse racing is sometimes called "The Sport of Kings." It wasn't lost on yours truly as our Olympic head of state drew the lots for the oldest continuous thoroughbred classic on the continent.
At the outset, this Queen's Plate has strengthened an historic Canadian sporting connection.
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