Williams' Spirit riding high

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

The mother of all Olympic Games -- at least in this country -- was clearly the biggest lure.

But Brian Williams admits he wanted much more than that from his new employer before deciding last June to end his lengthy and distinguished run at the CBC.

"When I went to CTV/TSN, obviously I went for the Vancouver (2010) Olympics and through to London in 2012," said Williams, the dean of Olympic TV coverage in Canada. "But I also wanted a commitment to amateur sports."

Consider it a promise kept.

The result is Bell Spirit of the Game, an amateur sports series that airs over the next six Sundays on TSN. It occupies the 11-11:30 a.m. timeslot beginning this weekend.

Williams speaks with genuine enthusiasm about a series of shows that combines three of his passions -- amateur sport, storytelling and journalism. He considers it ground-breaking, both for viewers and himself.

"I've always wanted to do a show like this," he said. "Other shows like The Olympians (on CBC) were very well done, but I just fronted them. This show, I'm very much involved.

"I'm doing some journalism and I'm telling stories. It's a journey (to Vancouver), and the journey is under way. I want to tell amateur sport stories."

The series has taken Williams from coast to coast and landed him in seven Canadian provinces along the way. Former CBC documentary producer Paul Harrington -- "as good as there is," said Williams -- heads up the production team, which shot the entire series in high-definition format.

"(TSN) has given me resources, top sponsors ... they've really delivered," said Williams.

Sunday's series opener examines why Quebec offers more funding (in total and per capita) for its amateur athletes than any other province. In future episodes, you'll learn about a program called 'Soldier On,' in which wounded soldiers are training to become Paralympians in 2010. There is an in-depth look at the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency and the Own The Podium program aimed at putting Canada on top of the Olympic world in Vancouver.

One of Williams' favourite pieces centres around Olympic cross-country ski gold medallist Chandra Crawford, who started up the 'Fast and Female' program in Canmore, Alta., to get young girls involved in her sport.

"This amazing young woman took $10,000 of her own money (to start) the program," he said. "It's giving women self-worth through sport."

It's one of many discoveries Williams has made during his "journey" across the land.

"I've been to 12 Olympics ... I thought I had a good idea of how dedicated amateur athletes are," he said. "But this (series) has opened my eyes."

Odds are it'll do the same for those who tune in.

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Tuesday is NHL trade deadline day, which means Canada's sports TV networks will hand over most of their daytime programming time to the rumours, speculation and any deals that actually go down. TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and The Score all plan to hit the ground running at 10 a.m. Here's hoping they've got lots of filler lined up: If past deadline days are any indication, most of the action will occur in the final few hours before the 3 p.m. deadline. For all the details of the networks' plans, log on to blog.canoe.ca/remotecontrol, where you'll also find loads of updates and commentary right up to the big day.

ANCHOR DISCONNECTED: Irreverent Sportsnet Connected anchor Mike Toth is cooling his heels after getting into a dispute with a producer two weeks ago. Toth hasn't been seen on the air since, but reports suggest he is still with the network (Toth has been heard on radio shows on Toronto's Fan 590, which is also part of the Rogers media group). No word yet on when he'll return.


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