PORT ALICE – At least one North Islander knows exactly what this year’s Olympic athletes are feeling.
He was one.
“Your adrenaline gets going, you get nerves,” said former Olympian Ian MacKenzie. “It’s big time.”
MacKenzie was an Olympic swimmer in the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany when he was just 18 years old.
These days he’s a mill worker in Port Alice where he has lived for the past 29 years but he still fondly remembers his Olympic experience.
“It was a real highlight of my life, no doubt about it,” says MacKenize. “It was real exciting all the good friends you meet. I look back on it, especially now.”
MacKenzie also remembers the night that 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed in the midst of all the Olympic excitement.
“At the time we had never really heard of terrorism,” said MacKenzie who added that even now it’s not something that usually weighs on competitors’ minds.
And MacKenzie says the deaths are not something he usually talks about, preferring to remember instead the good times, like international friendships.
“I got to hook up with old friends,” said MacKenzie. “It was so exciting.”
MacKenzie, who grew up in the small community of Ocean Falls and started swimming at the age of 8, competed in the men’s 200 metre and 4 x 200 metre freestyle as well as the men’s 100 and 200 metre backstroke, placing in the top seven in all four races at the ‘72 Olympics.
When MacKenzie’s school in Ocean Falls burned down when he was 16, he was given the opportunity to move to Vancouver and train with the Vancouver Dolphins, a world-class swim team.
“I had good coaching,” says MacKenzie, including the top coach in Canada in Ocean Falls. “The coaches did a lot for me.”
Despite the Olympics being far from home MacKenzie said there was always someone in the stands rooting for you.
“Your fellow athletes would go to one another’s events to cheer each other on,” said MacKenzie.
And he said it was “amazing” being around so many world-class athletes, including American swimmer Mark Spitz who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, a record that stood until Michael Phelps broke it at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Greece.
MacKenzie, who swam alongside Spitz at the Games, described him as “incredible.”
“He was awesome,” said MacKenzie. “He was ahead of his time.”
MacKenzie believes that having the Winter Olympics back in Canada will be a positive experience.
“I think it will be really exciting for Vancouver and even Canada,” said MacKenzie.