A bunch of us were sitting at a bar one day, about ten years ago, talking about who we thought Canada’s all-time greatest athlete was, and the usual suspects came up – Wayne Gretzky, Lionel Conacher, Rocket, Howe, Terry Fox, Bobby Orr and the likes, and one of the guys laughingly piped up that he could remember when Gene Kiniski, one of the nations’ most colourful wrestlers of the 1950’s and 60’s, used to bill himself as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete.”
We chuckled and ordered more beer.
At the time I was writing a regular column for a newspaper and decided from that barroom chat that Gene Kiniski would make a great story. So I tracked him down and gave him a call.
He answered the phone as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete.”
And as it turned out, Gene Kiniski was one of the nicest and funniest guys, and he made our phone call a barrel of laughs. I came away a Gene Kiniski fan. Later on I mailed him the column I wrote and he sent back a great picture and an invitation to join him at his son’s restaurant in Point Roberts.
I never managed to make it, and sadly, the great man passed away just last April at the age of 81.
Maybe I was afraid he’d put me in an anaconda vice or thumb choke hold. But I sure regret now not going.
In my book, Gene Kiniski was and is Canada’s Greatest Athlete.