John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Knowledge bomb – Canadian Sports History

Cliff Thorburn

Snooker player Cliff Thorburn at work.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, my I’ve been very busy doing some freelance work for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. The past two weeks have been spent researching and selecting the top two or three defining moments in the lives of 96 honoured members of the Hall.

Along the way I’ve learned a lot of quirky and interesting facts about some of Canada’s greatest athletes.

Snooker master Cliff Thorburn was the first person in world championship history to record a perfect break of 147.

For those of you who’ve never played snooker: a perfect score of 147 means that he sank every cherry ball on the table and was able to follow up with the black ball (the most valuable of the coloured balls) every time. Further, he did it without his opponent ever sinking a single ball. It’s an incredible feat of strategy, foresight and skill at any level, let alone in a world championship.

Unfortunately, Thorburn went on to lose the final match of the tournament to Steve Davis, but that doesn’t diminish his accomplishment in the first round against Terry Griffiths.

Famed strongman Louis Cyr’s records are hard to verify since few were recorded and most were hyped and exaggerated by promoters. However, he definitely set a record in 1895 by lifting 4,337 pounds on his back. As impressive as that is, the story that struck me was that at the age of 18 Cyr won a strongman competition in Boston by lifting a horse off the ground.

Don’t get me wrong, no horse weighs as much as 4,337 pounds, but they do, you know, move around and squirm. Particularly if they’re uncomfortable, like if someone was picking them up off the ground. Trying to lift something as heavy as a horse while it is moving is way more impressive than a dead lift, no matter the disparity in weight.

Finally, as many hockey fans know, Henri Richard holds the record for most Stanley Cup wins as a player. His 11 championship rings is a mark that may never be passed with the salary cap-era of the National Hockey League in full effect.

What most people don’t know is that at the time of Richard’s retirement he had won more Stanley Cups than he had had birthdays. Since he was born on February 29th, 1936 – a leap year – he had only celebrated his actual birthday nine times before his retirement during the 1974-75 season.

Anyway, thought I’d just drop some knowledge. I should have time to do some more posting as the week continues.


March Madness: Day 1 – Ignorance is bliss

Ohhhhh yyeeaaahhhh!!!One of the most peculiar periods in the Canadian sporting year is the last two weeks of March.

That’s when, like everyone else in the civilized world, Canadians become obsessed with the NCAA’s Division I basketball tournament. However, unlike our neighbours to the south, we can come at it from an oddly objective place.

Let me explain.

Obviously, there are no Canadian schools in the tournament. There are rarely Canadians to root for, either. Like following the National Football League we’re left to our own devices to figure out which teams to pick. We are unfettered by any kind of loyalty or regional bias.

Really, in general, Canadians are blissfully ignorant of college basketball until about early March. There’s little coverage on Sportsnet or TSN. Only hardcore basketball fans who seek out games on the Score or online have any real knowledge of the NCAA game. Everyone else gleans what they can from American shows like Pardon the Interruption or Around the Horn. Our focus is, and always will be, hockey.

Does that stop Canadians from participating in March Madness pools? Not even a little. Practically everyone I know has at least one bracket, and suddenly basketball is on all kinds of TV channels. After all, there is no better way to while away the time once your NHL team is eliminated from the playoffs.

My only NCAA allegiance is to Syracuse University Orange. Not because of Carmelo Anthony, but because of their lacrosse team. After all, that’s where Gary and Paul Gait went. Not to mention the Powell boys. Also, it’s kind of local to Toronto. I guess that's nice.

Aside from that small preference for the Orange, I can enjoy the tournament bias free. Heck, I’m even indifferent to Duke University which, according to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, people hate.

Personally, I enjoy the fact that as a Canadian I can operate from a point of objective ignorance: It means that I rarely over-think things. My judgement is never clouded by preference or conflicting sources of information.

If 75% of users are picking a team online, it sounds good to me. I’ll never be tempted to pick an underdog, since, hey, I don’t know anything beyond the seeding. Historical trends? Don't know, don't care. It’s wonderfully liberating.

My strategy is to pick teams I’ve heard of, relying on the assumption that if they're on my radar up here in Canada, they must be good. Failing that, I go with the higher seed. If two well known teams meet at some point in my bracket, I follow the lead of my fellow online users. When I feel particularly daring I’ll take an underdog (usually a 12 seed over a five) but that’s as wild as I get.

It’s actually a pretty good system. It leaves me open to upsets, but that’s rarely a problem beyond the Sweet 16.

Now I can just sit back and enjoy the show, along with my free health care. The beauty of being Canadian.