The three plush, blue velvet Olympic medal cases have well worn corners and only one has a lid. The gold, silver and bronze medals, heavy and well-handled, hang from frayed ribbons, testament to their owner’s philosophy the most coveted of all athletic laurels are to be portioned with the people she represented when she won them at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.
Handful of hardware.
Olympic medallist Anne Ottenbrite-Mulyaert shows off her hardware to ten year old Taylor Ann Withey of Pulsars Gymnastics in Newmarket. The pair were at Upper Canada Mall for an Olympic celebration Friday.
Anne Ottenbrite-Muylaert was 18 when she won gold in the 200m breaststroke, silver in the 100m breaststroke and bronze as part of the 4x100m medley relay.
Friday, the Whitby native, with eyes as stunningly blue and limpid as the water through which she churned, helped launch the Olympic viewing zone at Upper Canada Mall, a centre court lounge where you can catch live televised action from the 2012 London Olympiad.
Encouraging the throng of children, adults and members of the Pulsars Gymnastics team to hold, touch, lift and paw her precious medals, the Pickering Swim Club head coach shared her Olympic adventure.
“It’s important for me to share the medals so that others can touch and feel the experience,” Ms Ottenbrite-Muylaert said.
Until recently the medals were stored in a plastic Zehrs shopping bag at her Port Perry home, she admitted with a giggle. Now, thanks to her sister-in-law, they reside in a display case when not being paraded at various events.
The Olympic memories, it seems, are just as prized as the large medallions.
She recalled qualifying for the Canadian team despite a dislocated knee. The wonky joint precluded her from participating in the parade of nations.
“I could walk, but couldn’t stand for the four hours during the opening ceremonies,” she said. “I watched from a top the athlete’s village.”
As her events approached, her focus became laser-like.
“I organized my thoughts on what I had to do,” she recalled. “Technique-wise, I knew that if I did everything correctly, there would be medals, especially gold.”
As the first Canadian woman to win Olympic gold in the pool, the moments after were surreal, she said.
“It was very emotional, indescribable,” she said. “To achieve the goal you worked towards all your life, making it come to fruition, is amazing. At that moment my life flashed in front of my eyes in slow motion.”
She can’t remember who placed the medals around her neck, but recalled the moment when the Canadian flag was raised.
“To be on the podium with our national anthem playing is an incredible feeling. It’s overwhelming. That’s why I love to share the medals, share the pride and hopefully inspire young athletes.”
The 1980s were a more innocent time, Ms Ottenbrite-Muylaert said. Medallists had to submit to doping tests by “peeing into a giant bottle,” while officials conducted random tests on athletes throughout the games. Security was a pale comparison to what exists today. The athlete’s village was special, she recollected.
“The niceties and being with fellow athletes who shared the same desire to win and had trained and sacrificed like you, was incredible,” she said. “It really was like walking on the Yellow Brick Road and entering Oz.”
The era was a turning point, blurring the line between purely amateur endeavour and commercialism.
Her medal wins attracted sponsorship offers and she did some promotional work. The money she made went into a trust fund.
“I had no agent at the time,” she said. “What did I know? I was just an athlete, a kid.”
She sees her future on the pool deck. Today, teaching and coaching 100 young swimmers, she hopes to inspire Olympic dreams, just as Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, winner of three Olympic gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, did for her.
“Watching her was the start of my Olympic dream,” she told the audience. “I started swimming because I wasn’t a land sport person. I was told to quit because of vertebrae issues. I went to the games with a setback. Be inspired. That’s the key.”
Holding the trio of medals aloft, she continued, “Watch the games, share in the moments. I was inspired. Now it’s your turn.”
The viewing zone offers televised coverage of Olympic events, seating and related activities during the 17 days of the games, mall general manager Robert Horst said.
“Upper Canada Mall is a big part of the community and we share our Olympic pride,” he said. “We hope to create special memories by having the Olympic zone. And, we’re pleased to enable our patrons to shop without missing the Olympics.”