One day I was sitting in a pub listening to the guy next to me tell his buddy about how 1950s/60s wrestling bad guy Gene Kiniski used to bill himself as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete.”
I thought that was great, so I tracked down Kiniski in Point Roberts, Wash. and gave him a call. I thought it would be good for the little newspaper column I had back then.
He answered the phone by saying, in a loud and gruff voice, “CANADA’S GREATEST ATHLETE!”
Yes he did. It was awesome.
He was also a terrific guy on the phone, full of fun and laughter, and he went on about his family, his son’s restaurant in Point Roberts, his contentment now.
Just a nice, sincere fellow who had also played pro football for the Edmonton Eskimos before his wrestling career had begun, and one who had adopted the villain role and “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” shtick by bashing bashing heads, throwing chairs out of rings, and pissing wrestling fans off, all as a way of supporting his family.
For every saintly Whipper Billy Watson, there had to be a Gene Kiniski to stomp and growl.
In 2010 we lost this colourful character and I don’t know about Canada’s Greatest Athlete, but there’s a good chance he was Canada’s Nicest Athlete.
He asked me to send him a clipping of the column, which I did, and he sent me these in return. I never made it down to see him, and I regret it.