There was perhaps no one better to run Own The Podium than Roger Jackson, BA’63,LLD'15, a man who owned it himself a half century ago.
Between 2005-10, Jackson was the founding CEO of Own The Podium 2010, the national program to prepare Canadian athletes for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. His influence was abundantly clear, as that year, Canadian athletes won 14 gold medals, more than any other country ever won.
Own The Podium was established in 2005, when John Furlong and the organizers of the 2010 Vancouver games realized that staging an excellent Games, and placing well just wasn’t good enough. We had to win. So they brought in a winner – Jackson.
With $110 million in seed money from corporations and the federal government, Own the Podium works to ensure Canada’s elite winter sport athletes, those deemed medal hopefuls, have every possible chance to succeed in the upcoming Olympic Games: international experience, coaches, therapists, equipment, training. The goal of Own The Podium is for Canada to be the top medal finisher in 2010 and place in the top three nations at the Paralympic Winter Games, which happens directly after the Olympic games.
The program targets those with a high degree of medal probability, and these sports include curling, hockey and long track and short track speedskating.
For the first time in its history, Canada has a national body coordinating efforts in the high-performance arena across all winter sports, which, according to Jackson is one of the main reasons why he accepted the lead role when it was offered in 2005.
“I wanted to strengthen the Canadian sport system,” Jackson said. “And I wanted to demonstrate that with proper support and leadership, we could get right up to the top of the world. And that is just what we are doing.”
Jackson’s will to win goes back to his first few weeks at Western when a strong desire to get involved in any sport, drew the lanky Torontonian to the fledgling university rowing club and later to UBC’s squad. “There were moments in training when literally dying would have been a pleasure,” he said. “We were certainly pushed way beyond what we were capable of, and that was a very important part of our success.”
But Jackson is perhaps best known for representing Canada as an athlete at three Summer Olympic Games, beginning with Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964, where he won a gold medal in rowing.
On Oct. 16, 1964, Jackson and his partner George Hungerford did what they had been doing every day for the past six months. They got in their scull, put oar to water and rowed. But that day was different. The weight of the world was off their shoulders. No coaches were yelling in their ears sending them out for just one more 5,000-metre loop. It was just the two of them.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the team had shocked the rowing world by winning the gold medal, Canada’s one and only that year, in coxless pairs at the Tokyo Olympics. Their lives had changed.
The boys had stroked a borrowed shell from the Lake Washington club in Seattle, Wash., and they had never tasted international competition prior to the Games, save for the occasional meet with rivals from south of the border in Washington state. But nothing could stop Jackson and Hungerford on Oct. 15. It was to be their day.
“I remember the crowd screaming ‘Deutschland, Deutschland, Deutschland,’” Jackson told the Alumni Gazette in 2008. “I said to myself, ‘No bloody way, we’re not quitting.’”
Despite a strong challenge from the defending European champions from Holland, Jackson and Hungerford hung on and claimed a victory for Canada. The Germans ended up eight seconds back in third place.
Jackson has been elected president of the Canadian Olympic Committee on three occasions, and the chairman of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, Canada’s anti-doping agency. For 10 years, he was a leader of the Calgary Olympic Winter Games bid and organizing committees, and for 15 years, a member of the executive committee of the Pan American Sports Organization, with primary responsibilities relating to the staging of four Pan American Games.
He has consulted extensively with cities bidding for, or organizing, the Olympic Games. However, his role in the Olympics goes far beyond the organizational side.
Jackson was appointed dean of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Physical Education (now Kinesiology) in 1978, and built a significant research program and academic environment during his two terms in the post. He was also instrumental in the bid committee for the 1988 Olympic Winter Game in Calgary, and helped ensure the university had a definitive role in The Games.
He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a recipient of both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Canadian Olympic Orders, winner of a Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s outstanding athlete, and was twice elected as a member of the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, once as an athlete, once as a builder. He currently serves as chairman of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, and chairman of the National Music Centre. In June 2015, he received an honorary degree from Western.
Sources Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Alumni Gazette
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