October 16, 2012
Terry Jones worthy of recognition
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - On the day before the 1984 Summer Olympics began -- being young, inexperienced, and, let's face it, somewhat lost -- I asked Terry Jones what he planned to cover first at the Games.
"Shooting," he told me. "Women's shooting."
And I thought to myself: "Shooting? Who covers women's shooting? What the hell does Jonesy know, anyhow?"
Two days later we all found out when a headline that included the words "Pistol-packing mama" accompanied his column in the Sun newspapers. Jones wrote the story of Linda Thom that day, the first Canadian to win gold at a very busy Summer Olympics. He also happened to be the only print reporter on the scene recording that piece of history, which is something of a badge of honour in our industry.
"How did you know?" I asked him later about Linda Thom.
"Instincts," he told me. "I did my research, I had a hunch and I went with it."
The media world was very different then, but the skills that matter haven't changed over time. To be the best, and Terry Jones has been that in his market and in this country for more than 40 years, you need to trust your instincts, you need to know what a story is, you need to how to tell it and, more importantly, how to write it, and you need to be able to interview and ask the right questions.
And then you have to get up the next day and do it all over again.
Most people can do it once, twice, 10 times maybe. Most journalists, even. But to do it year after year, to write more than 12,000 columns, around nine million words, from every venue, every country, every sporting event that matters and remain topical, with every impediment thrown your way and remain relevant, newsy, instinctual -- it means the guy they call "Large" is in the smallest sample size of our craft.
That is why he was honoured Tuesday with the greatest prize a Canadian sportswriter can earn: He was honoured for lifetime achievement by Sports Media Canada, the national arm of the world body of sporting press. He was nervous and humbled and true to himself at the luncheon at the Royal York Hotel which featured a ballroom crowded with the who's who of Canadian sporting executives, broadcast and otherwise, who basically run everything that is sports in this country. He received his recognition in the media division alongside Bruce Arthur as sports writer of the year, and Rod Smith as broadcaster of the year. For once, instead of writing the story, Jones was the story.
He was on a podium for the second time in a year. Last November, he was honoured with the Elmer Ferguson Award, the writing equivalent of entrance in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Before that, there was the Canadian Hall of Fame. Jones is running out of awards to win. But each of them -- football, hockey, and now career achievement -- speaks to the kind of work he has done. The love he has for the profession shows up in the newspaper pages of the Edmonton Sun almost daily.
I feel fortunate to have worked alongside Jones, covering 13 Olympics with and against him, numerous Super Bowls and Grey Cups, Stanley Cup playoffs, title fights, and I view him as I always have: As my personal journalism professor, my mentor, really, the man who taught me more about being a pro than anyone else, more about believing in your words and your thoughts, more about why it matters to be there, to face the music, to write the best angle. And why you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good.
Even when he messes up, no one in the business cleans up better than Jones. At the Turin Olympics, he was assigned to cover cross-country skiing one day. "His girls," he called them, both of them being from Alberta.
Only he missed the bus to the mountains that day -- and in doing so missed the race. "Don't worry," he told me. "I've got their cellphone numbers. I'll catch up."
You may remember the event: It was the most memorable of the Turin Games. Beckie Scott and Sara Renner were racing together when Renner broke her pole. But instead of their race being over, a Norwegian coach, out of nowhere, handed Renner another pole and the two went on to win a silver medal.
What Jones didn't know was that none of the reporters covering the race got a chance to interview the Norwegian coach. Jones, playing catchup, happened to have a phone handed to him from a colleague who said: "Want to speak to the coach?"
Jones got the story that no one else had. The best story of the Games. That's pure Jonesy, falling out of a tree head first and landing on his feet. The greatest of all journalists do whatever dance they find necessary. And nobody has danced faster or harder than my hero out of Edmonton.