Thursday 11 August 2016


I can’t help but think of Alex Decoteau as I watch events from the Olympics in Rio. Alex competed in the 5,000 metre race at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm.

Running was his passion. As a policeman in Edmonton in 1910, he had to run after cars speeding over 15 mph down Jasper Avenue and ticket the drivers. No one seemed to hold it against him. Imagine getting a speeding ticket from a champion runner!

He was known as the "Tom Longboat of the West" and many newspapers carried stories about Alex. In Lethbridge he won the half mile, one mile, two mile and five mile races. All on the same day! At one Calgary Herald Christmas Day Road Race he ran ahead of the other runners to clear the road of cars. After all he was a policeman. What a showman! He even entered and won bike races.

Some things never change and there are many similarities between Alex and this year’s competitors. He trained hard and the competition for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team was stiff with lots of potential for disappointment. Alex travelled by train from Edmonton to Montreal, but still didn’t know if he’d qualified, as his chief competitor was ill and couldn’t complete. So Alex had to go to Vancouver. All this before air travel!

He was thrilled to make the team. Along with Joe Keeper from Winnipeg he was on his way to Stockholm! Although he didn’t win a medal he returned to a hero’s welcome in Edmonton. Always ready to put on a show, he stepped off the train wearing a bowler hat and twirling a cane.

One of the stories frequently repeated was that at the Olympics someone got the idea that the four aboriginal runners could do a demonstration race. Jim Thorpe, the fastest man in the world, Gibson, Keeper and Decoteau. Did this really happen? Is it true that all four crossed the finish line together?

Fact or fiction, this story repeats itself in my play, Running: The Alex Decoteau Story.

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