Field of Play: Elizabeth Manley's Hall of Fame moment | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: Elizabeth Manley's Hall of Fame moment

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 02:50 PM

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Elizabeth Manley's stunning performance at the 1988 Calgary Olympics still resonates nearly three decades later. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press) Elizabeth Manley's stunning performance at the 1988 Calgary Olympics still resonates nearly three decades later. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

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It took more than a quarter century, but Elizabeth Manley, who won a silver medal at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, has finally become an honoured member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.
Sports Halls of Fame are interesting creations where landmark performers are honoured for the many things they've accomplished over the course of remarkable careers.

The simple truth is that sports Halls of Fame resonate more than most other kinds of similar institutions in our collective experience. Thus, our revered performers of sport enjoy an exalted status in North American society.

Inevitably, the benchmark which distinguishes an athlete or builder who ascends to any Hall of Fame is that he or she has fashioned a body of work which is worthy of both envy and admiration. Their singular fame or lasting notoriety is based on adulation but also involves a legacy which places them among the greatest of all time at what they've done on their particular field of play.

But there is also, many would contend, room in a Hall of Fame for the exceedingly famous act. This might be at least partly the case for figure skater Elizabeth Manley, who won a silver medal at the Calgary Olympics in 1988 and who will finally, more than a quarter century later, become an honoured member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

"She woke the whole world up with her skate," said 1992 Olympic downhill gold medallist Kerrin Lee-Gartner, herself a Hall of Famer who was inducted in 1995. "At the time I was pretty consumed with my own sport but I watched her skate on TV. Elizabeth's moment on that ice became a moment which belonged to all of us... it became Canada's moment."

Indeed, as Lee-Gartner pointed out, Manley ended up becoming the unlikely headliner in Calgary because of her performance in the free skate program at what was then called the Olympic Saddledome. All the talk had revolved around the "Battle of the Carmens" pitting Katarina Witt of Germany against the American Debi Thomas.  

Manley wasn't given much chance of winning a medal as she had finished 13th at the previous Olympics in Sarajevo and had, in the interval, publicly battled depression. All the while she had only managed mediocre international results.

"It was never going to happen for me," Manley reflected on the prevailing personal and public sentiment in the lead up to Calgary. "I was inconsistent, all of my defeats and all of my depression, there were all these odds stacked against me."

But once the moment of truth presented itself, Manley delivered the self-proclaimed "skate of my life" and joyously won the free program segment at the Olympics, the silver medal, and missed unseating Witt for gold by mere fractions in the scoring.

Iconic moment

As part of her on-ice celebration the jubilant Manley donned a white Stetson, which has become an enduring symbol of the city most notably attached to the huge volunteer spirit associated with the 1988 Olympics.

The image of Manley putting on that hat has become nothing short of iconic for more than one generation of Canadians.

"They saw the sincerity and honesty of the moment," Manley figured. "It was a moment of personal revelation and it had nothing to do with winning a medal. In fact, I won a gold medal in life that night and all Canadians could see it."

As they rose to have their portrait taken Wednesday in Toronto, the class of 2014 was made up of six athletes and two builders and only three were absent.

sports-hall-2014-300.jpg Included in the group are Kathy Sheilds, an accomplished basketball coach, as well as Tim Frick, a great mentor on Canada's Paralympic stage. There is Gareth Rees, an international rugby star of renown; Pierre Harvey, a trailblazing cross-county skier; hockey star Geraldine Heaney; and Canada's most prolific ski jumper, the four-time Olympian Horst Bulau. The late freestyle skiing champion Sarah Burke, who had fought long and hard to get her sport Olympic recognition, was represented in the photo by her father, Gordon.

In terms of physical stature, the smallest of the class of 2014 stood front and centre. Elizabeth Manley is just over five feet tall but she remains a gigantic presence in Canadian sports history for what she did during her fleeting time on Olympic ice nearly three decades ago.

"I feel like it's still in her," marveled Lee-Gartner. "I feel like I'm watching that same excited girl from 1988."

There is definitely room in the Hall of Fame for startling and wonderful acts such as the one Elizabeth Manley conjured up in Calgary all those many years ago.

They are, in fact, famous acts and ones worth savouring forever. That's what shrines like Canada's Sports Hall of Fame are meant to recall for those who visit.

The only wonder, in the case of Elizabeth Manley, is that it's taken so long to deem this moment and the person who conceived it worthy of inclusion.   

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