Dylan Armstrong gets more than just Olympic medal

Canadian shot putter Dylan Armstrong missed a medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing by less than a centimetre. The man who finished ahead of him was later banned for life for doping. Finally, on Sunday, the wrong was righted, writes Scott Russell.

Canadian shot putter awarded bronze for 2008 Games

CBC News speaks with Armstrong and his very proud mother in Kamloops, B.C. 6:23

It can be all too easy to get cynical about sport these days. The cheating, the money, the many times it fails to live up to our lofty expectations.

Today was not one of those days.

No, this turned out to be a day of affirmation.

On the 50th anniversary of the Canadian flag, a guy who has always unabashedly draped the Maple Leaf over his enormous shot putter's frame finally got his due.

Dylan Armstrong missed a medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing by less than a centimetre. He finished fourth in the shot put before 91,000 fans at the enormous Bird's Nest athletics stadium. Six and a half years after the fact, the wrong got righted Sunday.

The man who finished just ahead of Armstrong in Beijing, Andrei Mikhnevitch, of Belarus, has been banned for life because of multiple doping offences. His name was not mentioned at a joyous celebration at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., and the Tournament Capital Centre.

The original bronze medal was, however, there. On the surface it's just a decorative necklace — a small circle of metal — something to hang around your neck.

But in Armstrong's home town, his many friends and admirers came out to see what they believe is an enormous symbol of achievement. They flocked by the thousands to witness their native son's podium moment too long postponed.

Fellow athletes in attendance

There were bands playing, and in the crowd were three Olympians who had carried the Canadian flag into opening ceremonies at past Games — Nancy Greene (1968), Abby Hoffman (1976) and, most recently, Hayley Wickenheiser in 2014 in Sochi.

It was Wickenheiser, a member of the IOC Athlete's Commission, who performed the ceremony and delivered the prize. There were multiple standing ovations and more than a few tears as Armstrong ventured into the crowd to feel the embrace of the people who have always believed in him.

"It's pretty nice, eh?" the local hero spoke in such a familiar way. Armstrong is a clean athlete who has not cheated and instead has been patient all these years until recognition finally landed with its rightful owner. "It's good to have this medal in Canada and back where it belongs," he said with pride.

Then the anthem played and the flag waved. It was not what it would have been in Beijing, but then again, maybe it was even better. A big win for Armstrong and his family, no doubt.

"He's just a great guy and I'm so happy it's finally happened for him," said his emotional mother, Judy.

Significant moment for sport

But perhaps there was something more important to be found in this Kamloops field house today. It was a momentary restoration of something with larger significance.

Faith in sport.

"This medal is a big deal for Canada," said Marcel Aubut, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "It's a big deal for sport in general and it's a big deal for this community."

Off to the side sat Armstrong's friend of many years, Gary Reed, who had finished an agonizing fourth at the Beijing Olympics in the 800m. Now retired, Reed beamed at his buddy's moment in the sun.

"He deserves it," Reed enthused. "It's an accomplishment and the culmination of a lifelong dream. The years and years and years of work and sacrifice that go into something like this are hard for most people to even fathom."

It all made sense as the little kids clamoured to have their picture taken with Armstrong after the ceremony. There he was, draped in the flag again and the bronze bobble finally dangled from his enormous neck.

It was much more than a medal.

On a day when it was impossible to be cynical about sport, it was living proof that sometimes the right person wins.


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