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Good show in Edmonton
Kenny Moore
August 14, 1978
In contrast to all the wrangling at the Montreal Olympics is the merry spirit on display at the Commonwealth Games
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August 14, 1978

Good Show In Edmonton

In contrast to all the wrangling at the Montreal Olympics is the merry spirit on display at the Commonwealth Games

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A booming city of 500,000 on the North Saskatchewan River in central Alberta, Edmonton was created by the fur trade; now it thrives on oil. With Montreal's $900 million Olympic loss madness in mind, Edmonton's organizers strove for functional utility in the stadium, pool, velodrome, shooting range and bowling greens they built. The $36-million capital budget was met.

Canadians exhibit a lovely split personality concerning royalty. The one frill in the Edmonton Stadium is a $50,000 "biffy" for Queen Elizabeth. Naturally, half the crowd attending the opening ceremonies craned to see if she would use it. She didn't. "There's still time," said the Edmonton Sun, cheering the downcast, "she'll be back to watch the track meet." Yet, as the Queen—in a shining green dress—glided around the track in a glossy old Lincoln, she was showered with affectionate, ever-so-earnest applause. "It gives you shivers just to see her," said a Canadian matron, displaying a milk-white arm on which all the hairs were standing straight up.

The opening ceremonies commenced with the stadium trembling beneath a 21-gun salute, then cringing as the jet aerobatic team that opened the Olympics almost killed itself again. Roly-poly schoolgirls danced with gold lam� flags and collapsed in the 81� heat. There were Indian dancers, square dancers, canoe dancers, ax dancers, net dancers, scythe dancers, Scottish dancers with pipes, bounding Ukrainian dancers. They all collapsed in the heat. Mounds of red balloons sailed up like huge random jellyfish in a blue Alberta sky. And after all that marvelous, important, if irrelevant, pageantry, the 1,500 athletes were finally displayed.

To make it more fun, the British Isles divided itself into England, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The rest of the 47 Commonwealth nations seemed like a list of stops on the itinerary of Joseph Conrad. Gambian women pattered along in white basketball shoes, Western Samoans came in lavalavas, India's men were turbaned in saffron. Speeches were given, the athlete's oaths taken, and more balloons swirled up in a great helix. As usual, the British were blas�—"another rag to chuck in a trunk and never wear again," said Nick Rose of his beige blazer—but those from the more distant outposts were caught up in the pageantry. Rono carried Kenya's flag and stood with it on the infield for an hour, a sober statue with a TV camera in his face all the while.

One ecstatic figure was a tiny brown man in the midst of the New Zealand squad, a man now 42 years old, yet affectingly childlike in his exuberance. "I tried to draw the attention of the Queen," he said of his furious waving. "She waved back. I was delighted."

This was Precious P. McKenzie, M.B.E., born in South Africa of Scottish and African descent, orphaned at five, a cobbler and a weight lifter at 21, a longtime embarrassment for apartheid because in 1958 he lifted more than the white South African champion but was not chosen for that year's Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales. "I thought of leaving," he says, "but there were promises. The ones they made to the world they made to me. I was promised Rome [the Olympics in 1960]. It didn't happen. I was promised Tokyo in 1964. That never materialized." In 1964 McKenzie made it out to England. It is easier to switch nations in the Commonwealth than schools in the NCAA. In 1966 McKenzie won the bantamweight (123� pounds) gold medal for England at the Games held in Kingston, Jamaica. In 1970 he won again, in Edinburgh. And he won again in 1974 in Christchurch, in the flyweight class (114� pounds).

"I fell in love with New Zealand," he says. So he stayed and switched his eligibility once more.

Now he was in his fourth Games, going for his fourth gold, back in the bantamweight division. The competition was last Friday. In the velvet splendor of Jubilee Auditorium, with the Queen and Prince Philip, Andrew and Edward looking on, McKenzie fell behind India's Tamil Selvan after the snatch, 105 kg. (231� pounds) to 97.5 (215 pounds). McKenzie was fighting cramps in his thighs for the first time in his career. In the clean and jerk, Selvan missed once at 115 kg. (253� pounds) before supporting it, He could go no higher. McKenzie thus began at 122.5 kg. (270 pounds), which, if he lifted it, would tie his rival in total weight. Because McKenzie weighed 1� pounds less than the Indian, he would win if he made it.

He missed on his first try. Pacing, regarding the bar coyly, like a flirting woman, he finally rushed up and lifted it cleanly. The crowd rose in ovation. Later, McKenzie glowed as few men can. "This is simply the greatest achievement of my life," he said. "The only thing comparable is being back in Buckingham Palace receiving my investiture as a Member of the British Empire." With that, Precious P. McKenzie announced that his career as a weight lifter was over. "I will retire now to a new endeavor."

And what is that?

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