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  January 27, 2001



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Special memories


By BRET HART -- Calgary Sun

 Obviously, the most valuable thing that Canadian Olympic Amateur wrestling gold medallist Daniel Igali owns is his medal. He carries it with him everywhere he goes -- and I can appreciate that.

 Imagine my surprise when Igali told me he'd read in one of my Sun columns where I wrote that my city championship medal from my amateur wrestling days in high school is one of my most prized possessions. Igali said it meant a lot to him to know how much that medal means to me.

 The fact is, even after winning all the big pro wrestling championships in both organizations, including seven world heavyweight titles that took me around the world, I still hold in high regard the city championship medal I won back in '74. It did so much to bolster my confidence and self esteem that it proved to be one of the biggest turning points in my entire life.

 About a week later, something else happened, something more personal, that has always meant a lot to me also.

 On the way to the provincials, the bus was packed full of the best wrestlers from all over the city. Some of them had less than kind things to say about pro wrestling. They poked fun at me on the long drive to Cardston.

 Those were still the days when the inner workings of pro wrestling hadn't been exposed to the public but, even then, if there was a group of people who could see through pro wrestling for the choreographed exhibition that it is, it was amateur wrestlers. They constantly chided me, most of the time good naturedly, about how phony pro wrestling was and it wasn't that I was trying to defend it as 'real' so much as I wished they could simply appreciate that it was just `different' than amateur wrestling.

 A highly-regarded wrestler from Central Memorial, Jim Banks, stuck up for me saying, "Why don't ya just leave 'em alone. What does your dad do for a living?"

 At the provincials, I had a turn of bad luck when I broke my collarbone shooting a double leg take down on a guy from Forest Lawn, Mike Michalezki. My hopes for a provincial medal were dashed and, besides that, I was in considerable pain. Banks, who won that night, came up to me and said, "It's too bad you got hurt, got eliminated," and with that he proceeded to help me gather my things and he carried my bag. I couldn't help but think, what a class act he is.

 Well, I hadn't known Jim Banks all that well, seeing as he lived in another part of the city. I'd see him at wrestling meets, where I was impressed with how good he was. As far as his personality, I liked him because he wasn't as straight-laced as most amateur wrestlers still tend to be. I was impressed that a guy from another school, a rival team, would stick up for me like that.

 "Bret, don't even worry about it," he said on the bus ride home. "Next year, you're going to win and you know it. We'll win it all."

 That was in March, the end of the season.

 It turned out to be a bad injury that bothered me all spring and summer. When school started in the fall, I saw a coach from Central Memorial and when I asked how Jim was doing he got a sullen look and told me that Jim had died in a car accident.

 It really bothered me. I'd been looking forward to telling Jim how much his words of encouragement meant to me all summer long. I've never forgotten. He was a gifted athlete who was exceptionally kind-hearted. I'd looked forward to riding on the bus with him but now it wasn't going to happen.

 A special tournament was being organized in his memory and as soon as I heard about it, I promised myself I would win it in Jim's honour. I told myself that if I could do this, it would mean more to me than anything else I could win all year. I put a lot of pressure on myself to win for Jim, which I knew wouldn't be easy because I'd have to beat Bob Eklund ... which would be tough enough on any day, but on this particular day, he wanted to win for his teammate as much as I did. In one of the toughest wrestling matches I ever had, I did beat Bob Eklund and although I was undefeated all year, of course, Bob came back and scooped me that year, taking the gold in both the cities and provincials ... and going on to become one of the very best amateur wrestlers that Canada has ever produced.

 Now a friend of mine, amateur wrestling coach Mike Dunn, is working on putting together another memorial tournament. This one will be for my brother, Owen. I can think of no better tribute. Owen was also a city and provincial champion in his own right who went on to compete in the nationals. I think Owen would love the idea of anything that promotes amateur wrestling. Too many kids side-step amateur wrestling to get involved in pro wrestling instead. Owen and I often spoke about how helpful our amateur backgrounds were in pro wrestling and also of what a positive effect amateur wrestling has on junior high school and high school-aged boys in terms of building self confidence. The tournament in tribute to Owen is still in the planning stages.

 Meanwhile, Mike invited me to a meet yesterday at David Thompson high school, where I enjoyed showing my support for all the great young wrestlers. I was impressed not only with the level of their ability but also with their degree of dedication. Mike Dunn's King of the Mat wrestling club is great stuff.

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