Veteran Toronto Star reporter Randy Starkman, Canada's premier amateur athletics journalist, has died.
The two-time National Newspaper Award winner, who exposed sprinter Ben Johnson's second positive steroid test in 1993, and covered 12 Olympic Games, passed away Monday at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
A silent Star newsroom greeted the news that they had lost a friend and a cherished, admired colleague at age 51.
Starkman took ill after returning from Montreal, where he covered Canada's Olympic swimming trials. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and was admitted to hospital last week. He spent several days in intensive care.
"He's just one of a kind in our world," said Mark Tewksbury, a gold medallist in the 100-metre backstroke at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona and Canada's chef de mission for the London Olympics this summer.
"There was no bigger advocate for Olympic sports, Olympic athletes than Randy.
"There's now just a huge void."
Starkman, who began his journalism career covering sports with United Press Canada, was hired by the Toronto Star after the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, where Johnson tested positive for steroids.
While the higher profile beats such as the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors were offered to him over the years, Starkman turned them down, choosing instead to continue covering amateur athletics and the Olympics.
"Randy brought to life the lives and the struggles and the careers of amateur athletes like no one else," said John Honderich, chairman of the board of Torstar Corp., the parent company of the Star.
"He was the epitome of taking an area of sports and bringing it to life and interest to all."
Added Toronto Star Editor, Michael Cooke: "Randy was a reporter who knew the amateur sports beat A-to-Z and back again. His lively personality and deeply rooted professionalism will be so sadly missed by our newsroom."
Starkman's dedication did not go unnoticed in the amateur sports world.
"There's no doubt Randy was a true friend to Canadian amateur sport, this was especially true for us at Athletics Canada," said Mathieu Gentes, head of public relations and corporate services with the organization.
"I personally worked with Randy for almost eight years as he covered our athletes and events on a year-round basis, not just every four years.
"He was a true professional in every sense of the word, our athletes always made time to speak with him," Gentes continued. "When I contact an athlete with a request the first question is usually who is it for. Any time the answer was `Randy' you can be sure a `no problem' or `yes' followed closely."
Individual athletes were also deeply saddened by Starkman's passing.
"Choking back the tears on the news of Randy Starkman's death. Not only amazing reporter, but friend. My heart goes out to his wife and daughter," longtime Canadian women's hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser tweeted.
"Randy didn't just write about amateur sport, he truly loved it," Olympic champion kayaker Adam van Koeverden wrote in a blog. "He was a steadfast devotee. He loved us, and we loved him right back.
"We've lost a dear friend," he added. "Randy was truly like family to so many of us."
As dedicated as he was to his work, colleagues remember Starkman as quick with a joke and always willing to laugh, especially at himself.
"Randy balanced a sense of humour with his love of amateur sports," said longtime Canadian Press reporter Jim Morris, who covered a host of Olympics and world championships with Starkman.
"It always amazed me the people he knew and his keen ability to find a story that others missed.
"To him it was very important that amateur athletes received the recognition they deserved. He also cared about the athletes as people, who they were and why they competed.
"What I liked most about Randy was he could make you laugh. He had a quick wit and never took himself too seriously."
Longtime Toronto Star freelance reporter Lois Kalchman knew Starkman since he was 19.
"He championed amateur athletes and held each and every one of them in high regard," she said. "Nothing was too difficult for him in his quest to be accurate. He wanted his stories to make a difference to the public and told me he often proposed stories that editors felt were "not sexy" but he felt a need to write.
"He had a passion for safety issues and wanted his stories to make a difference to the public."
Starkman won his second NNA in 1995, for a story exposing the inadequacies of a popular hockey helmet. After having tests performed on the helmet, he confirmed that it offered scant protection against severe head injuries.
Former Star managing editor Lou Clancy accepted the award for Starkman, who was unable to attend because of illness. Clancy called him "a terrific investigative reporter as well as a sports writer."
Starkman is survived by his wife, Mary Hynes, herself a renowned amateur sports reporter, and their teenaged daughter, Ella.