By RON FANFAIR
The quartet of African-Canadians at the just concluded Vancouver Winter Olympics made major contributions to Canada’s best ever Games performance, winning four of the 26 medals.
Bobsledder Shelley-Ann Brown and short track speed skater Kalyna Roberge were the first Black Canadian women to capture Winter Olympics medals.
Born in Scarborough to Jamaican parents, Brown – the brakeman – and her pilot Helen Upperton clinched the silver medal in the two-man event.
“It makes me feel so good, especially to do this in Black History Month,” said the former track athlete who graduated from the University of Nebraska with an English degree and a Masters in Educational Psychology.
The 29-year old Brown began bobsledding just four years ago.
Roberge, who was born in St. Etienne de Lauzon to a White Quebecer father and a Mauritian mother, was part of the 3000-metre relay team that won a silver medal.
Ranked fifth in the world this season, she placed fourth in the 500-metre event at the last Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
Edmonton-born Jarome Iginla, whose father is a Nigerian lawyer, captured his second Olympic gold medal as Canada defeated the United States 3-2 in overtime in last Sunday’s exciting championship game. He was a member of the national team that defeated the Americans 5-2 in the gold medal contest in Salt Lake City eight years ago.
Lascelles Brown, who represented Jamaica at the 2002 Salt Lake Games where he set a push rack record before moving to Calgary later that year, secured a bronze medal – his second Olympics prize – in the four-man bobsled event.
He was awarded Canadian citizenship by special exemption two weeks before the last Olympics where he teamed up with Pierre Leuders to win a silver medal and become the first Jamaican-born to secure a Winter Olympics medal.
Canada won a record 14 gold medals at the Vancouver Games.
“I am ecstatic with our performance,” said Ontario Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best who spent four days in Vancouver last week attending Games festivities and meeting with sports officials. “I am also proud of Shelley-Ann’s performance since she was one of our province’s Quest for Gold athletes.”
Scarborough-born Vanessa James and her French partner Yannick Bonheur made history by becoming the first Black competitors in pairs skating. They represented France.
James left Canada at a young age to attend school in Bermuda – her father’s birthplace – before moving to the United States, England – where she was that country’s first Black figure skating champion – and then France.
The 22-year-old James, whose sister Melyssa is a British ice dancer, and Bonheur finished 14th in Vancouver.
Six-time German champion Robin Szolkowy, whose father is a Tanzanian medical doctor whom he met for the first time in Vienna two years ago, and his partner Aliona Savchenko won a bronze medal for Germany in the pairs skating event.