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Memory Lane: 1988 World Juniors made many great memories and lost more than $1M

Readers share fond memories of likely the biggest sporting event in the city’s history

Laurie and Willie Lamour of Naughton were surprised and happy when they saw the Memory Lane article April 30 about the 1988 World Junior Track and Field Championships.

"Believe it or not, my wife was one of the performers," said Willie. "She is the blonde-haired girl wearing the sunglasses in one of the photos."

Laurie Baker Lamour, who grew up in the Valley, remembers," I did not see much of the events and we were not given free passes to get in. Being 17, I didn’t have much money to afford the ticket prices (but) I still have the tennis skirt we wore.

"I remember a huge number of girls going to tryout — I’m sure it was in the hundreds — and it was over a few nights. We were outside in a football or soccer field, and we had to stand arm's-length apart.

"There were a few instructors up on a makeshift stage. They would start with turns and poses and we had to follow. Then, one by one, girls were asked to leave. And as the night went on, the instructors would incorporate routines. You had to be exact or you were cut.

"I am not sure how big the dance troop was in the end — maybe 60 dancers. We would meet in a gym and go over the routine and then we took it to the field to practise. This was done over a very short period of time. I loved it. I love to dance.

"The dancers were divided into two groups on the field. I was the lead of my group … counting out the moves to keep everyone in sync. 

"I was so nervous that I’d miss the first beat and throw the entire routine off, but I nailed it. We all had a blast."

One thousand and twenty-four athletes from 123 countries competed in Sudbury in July 1988 when the city hosted the World Juniors at Laurentian University's sports stadium. A 10-day arts festival was held at the same time.

Thousands of people, many of them teenagers, volunteered in some capacity to make the World Juniors a success. 

National and international media coverage was complementary about Sudbury's effort to stage a world-class event.

The Toronto Star ran a front page story headlined, "Sudbury deserves a gold medal for staging games."

Lionel Courtemanche was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies.  You can watch video of that here.

He told in 2012, "I really enjoyed that whole experience. We had 20,000 people on hand for the opening ceremonies at Laurentian. There must have been 3,000 kids involved, and they trained at Queen's Athletic Field."

His wife, Judi recalls: "I remember it was a very hot but fabulous week here in Sudbury. I loved every minute of it. I think the games certainly changed people’s perception of Sudbury in a positive way."

John Lindsay, who is remembered by CHNO Radio listeners under the name ‘Jack Richmond’, says, "The World Juniors were a memorable and successful event. I was involved as CHNO, CJMX and CFBR were broadcasting highlights throughout the event with all announcers involved."  

Lindsay and a few readers remembered seeing The Beach Boys and Roy Orbison at the opening ceremonies.

Actually, the Beach Boys concert was held earlier in the month at Laurentian University. The July 1 concert was sponsored by the Labatt's as a fundraiser and a kickoff for the World Juniors.

Needless to say, there was no shortage of things to do in July 1988. 

Men of the Deeps, the famous miners chorus from Cape Breton, entertained at the Grand Theatre on the closing night of the World Juniors.

On some nights there were four events going on at the same time. Featured acts included World Drums, 250 of the world's greatest percussionists that were a big hit at Vancouver's Expo 86, Montreal's O Vertigo Danse, The Nylons, and comedian and impersonator André Philippe-Gagnon.

Pianist Eleanor Connors and her daughter, the talented singer Cheryl Cherri, performed O Canada at a special event dinner that was held at the Caruso Club.

Cherri remembers, "The World Juniors was truly a wonderful event and one that will stay close in our hearts and many others for many years to come.

"My mother and I were chosen to perform the Canadian national anthem, as well as a couple of solos. A sold-out crowd at the Caruso Club, who were already standing for the singing of the anthem, remained standing and clapping for quite a period of time after the performance.  

"We were so excited to be chosen for this amazing event because it marked a moment in time in history and we were very proud to represent the City of Sudbury at this wonderful event.  

"We remember the influx of people and the excitement of the flags and all of the people represented in the various areas."

Forty-eight Canadian athletes participated in the track and field event but they did not win any medals. The Soviet Union took home the most medals (22) and East Germany won the most gold (11).

Four Polish athletes who were billeted with Polish-Canadian families in Sudbury, as well as an athlete from Romania and one from Ghana, applied to Canadian Immigration for refugee status.

Event voulunteer Jean-Yves Bujold said, "I have memories of shuttling athletes from the airport to living accommodations on campus and favourable comments from athletes who were impressed with both the layout and the various settings under which they competed and were housed."

The World Juniors lost $1.1 million due to unexpected broadcasting costs, a shortfall in sponsorship dollars and an ambitious arts festival.

 "It is a considerable amount of money but the university did inherit a state-of-the-art track, bleachers and a reconditioned club house because of these games," adds Bujold.

"If memory serves me right they also gained a practice soccer field which soon after was developed to proper standards."

Sudbury's bid to the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF)

made in 1986, beat out Cali, Colombia. Cali is scheduled to host the 2022 event.

The first World Junior Championships in Athletics was held in 1986 in Athens, Greece. Moncton, N.B., hosted the World Juniors in 2010. 

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. She covered the World Juniors in 1988 for Northern Ontario Business. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.