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Saturday, September 30, 2000

Henderson scores (IOC) for Canada

 SYDNEY -- The Regent Hotel in this beautiful Australian city of three million is guarded like a mini Fort Knox.

 At least, so it seems to the casual visitor. Getting into this hotel on Darling Harbour during the Olympic Games without proper accreditation is almost impossible. Security guards with guns are stationed at every entrance, stopping every living creature without credentials from entering.

 The security was at its tightest during the IOC's Session, which was held in the hotel's ballroom that easily accommodated the organization's 130 members. The security arrangements were particularly tight the day the IOC accepted 14 new members recommended by the IOC's executive board. Included were two Canadians: Toronto's Paul Henderson and Edmonton's Dr. Bob Steadward.

 There was no way to get past the men with guns to attend the inauguration of the two Canadians, except as personal relatives or friends of the proposed inductees. Each was allowed two guests.

 Henderson, whose dream it has been for years to become an IOC member, asked he be accompanied by his wife, Mary, and yours truly, I suppose as midwife for the occasion.

 I've seen men being nervous at school exams, at university graduation, or taking an oath of office. But I have never seen Henderson so anxious. Still, he didn't lose his humour altogether.

 Among the proposed 14 candidates were Dr. Tamas Ajan of Hungary, a weightlifting top executive; and Bill Hybl, president of the United States Olympic Committee. When Dr. Steadward of Paralympics fame joined the group in the foyer, Henderson looked around, then cracked: "This is the first time in my life that I was the tallest in any group."

 Inside the ballroom, it was all business. The assembled members of the IOC had to vote on all 14 candidates individually, which took about an hour and drove Henderson, the president of the world sailing federation, crazy.

 He paced the floor, then began looking for a television set because the proceedings were broadcast.

 Kipchoge Keino, one of the greatest runners in history, was also among the 14 candidates and just as uptight as Henderson.

 "I pray to God every day and ask him to let me see another morning," said Keino.

 "I also prayed and asked God to help me become an IOC member."

 Suddenly Henderson reappeared and said to his wife: "Well, I'm now an IOC member. They accepted all 14 of us. I watched it on TV. Now we have to go in and be inducted."

 So, we walked into the inner sanctum of the IOC, listened to all 14 promising to adhere to the rules of the IOC and watched them receive their medals from IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.

 For Canada, it was a big day because it gave our country six and a half IOC members; the others being Dick Pound, Carol Anne Letheren, Charmaine Crooks and Jim Worrall, an honourary IOC member.

 And the half member, you may ask?

 He is Johann Olav Koss of Norway, who married Belinda Stronach of Toronto, daughter of Magna International owner Frank Stronach. And with Belinda involved in Toronto's Olympic Bid for 2008, it's probable that Koss will vote in favour of Toronto at the next IOC Session in July in Moscow.

 As for the Regent Hotel security, they're pretty nice guys, but not infallible.