Salmon River man recalls the time when politics came between him and his chance to represent Canada on the worlds biggest stage
Wayne Smith of Salmon River looks at old photos from his weightlifting days. Smith qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, however, Canada boycotted the Games, putting an end to his hopes of competing in the Olympics. Matt Veno Truro Daily News
SALMON RIVER - Whenever Olympic Games roll around, Wayne Smith wonders, what if?
What if he'd been able to compete at the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, which were boycotted by Canada among 64 other countries in protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"Most definitely," said the 54-year-old Salmon River resident and owner of Wayne Smith Welding in the community. "It brings back a lot of memories. I never got to go to an opening ceremonies."
Throughout the 1970s, Smith was one of the top weightlifters in the country and claimed a silver medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton with a 337.5kg lift in the heavyweight combined division. At 21 years old, he also nearly made the 1976 Games in Montreal, but came up just inches short of making his 446-pound qualifying lift in Boston that year.
"That would have been the highlight of any athlete's career to qualify for a Games in their home country," said Smith, who still carries a strong frame from those days.
The disappointment was so great that he was determined to make the next Games in 1980. And he had to go through a lot to get there. Smith won several more medals at international competitions, claimed several national records over the next few years and was at his strongest in the summer of 1979.
But after returning to Ottawa following a win at a competition in Coventry, England, in May 1979, Smith became ill. He returned home to Truro and learned he would need surgery to remove his right kidney.
Once he returned home he started training and within six months was back to peak form and qualified for the Moscow Games.
"I was really excited to qualify," Smith said. "I made the team."
But Smith's excitement was short-lived. Shortly after making his qualifying lift, Smith started hearing chatter about the boycott. Initially he didn't pay any attention.
"I didn't want to get involved in the political part," he said. "I didn't know anything about it. I was an athlete. I ate and slept weightlifting. It was all I thought about."
Over the next few months, talk of the boycott increased. Then the announcement was made.
"We were at the mercy of the government," Smith said.
"The world was in turmoil and everyone thought it was going to be war. Then the hammer came down and they told us we weren't going."
After missing his Olympic dream once, overcoming kidney surgery, then missing his Olympic dream again, Smith felt helpless.
"When I was devoted to my career I was devoted to it," he said. "I gave 10 years of my life and it was my life. It was everything for me."
Smith continued to compete until 1982, then called it a career. But after trying so hard to compete at the Olympics, and nearly reaching his dream twice, why didn't he decide to keep chasing that dream to the 1984 Games in Los Angeles?
"I was past my peak and had to go to work," he said. "Weightlifting didn't pay the bills."
And over the next 30 years, those feelings of disappointment, the feelings of being robbed, have passed.
"I moved on," he said. "Life is a bunch of challenges. Weightlifting was a challenge and my next challenge was to start my business and be successful at it, which I am."
But making it easier to move past the missed experience, was the fact Smith had the opportunity to represent his country at other international events, like the 1978 Commonwealth Games.
"If I didn't have that, I think I would feel more like I missed something in my life," Smith said.