By SILVIA PIKAL
1936 OLYMPIC SILVER MEDAL
At Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Helena Deng, manager of exhibits and collections, points out a display with two Olympic medals.
The medals are both the same size, shape, and are imprinted with the words “XI. Olympiade Berlin 1936.” Both medals belonged to Canadian track and field athlete John Wilfrid Loaring, who won a silver medal in 400-metre hurdles at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
But one of these things is not like the other. One is silver and shiny, while the other is discoloured and clearly damaged.
“Unfortunately, my mother cleaned the winner’s silver medal with Ajax Cleanser which badly tarnished it,” Loaring’s son, G. R. John Loaring, said in an email to Where Calgary.
“Ajax is a very, very harsh chemical,” Deng says. “It’s great for sinks, less so for silver medals. By cleaning it with Ajax, she stripped a large portion — if not all — of the silver plating off the medal.”
Many years later, G. R. John Loaring received permission from the International Olympic Committee Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland to obtain a duplicate of the medal.
Luckily, the same German company that made the 1936 Berlin Olympic medals was still in business and able to reproduce the original. The medals are identical aside from a tiny “COPY” stamped along part of the thin round edge. (And the copy is unravaged by Ajax, of course).
In 2015, when Loaring was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, his son shipped his collection of medals to the museum, which included the original and its shiny copy.
“We as Canadians have a very long history of success in athletics,” Deng says. “This medal — to have it displayed — is that impact story.”
A CANADIAN TRACK AND FIELD STAR
Loaring was born in Winnipeg and moved to Windsor in 1926. A rising track and field star, he won several medals in high school and on the Kennedy Collegiate Track Team.
At only 21 years old, Loaring competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in 400-metre hurdles. The very first time he competed in this event was at the Canadian Olympic trials. He was also the youngest finalist in the category, and thus surprised the world by taking home the silver medal. Following his success in the Olympics, he won three gold medals at the 1938 British Empire Games.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, he left Canada for Britain to serve in the Royal Navy. In 1940, as a radar officer on HMS Fiji, Loaring overcame gruelling and challenging circumstances. When the ship was dispatched to pick up civilian survivors of a torpedoed ship, Loaring was able to help resuscitate three children due to his training in Royal Life Saving skills.
During the Battle for Crete, their ship ran out of ammunition and was sunk by a German bomber. Thanks to the strength and stamina Loaring developed as one of the top hurdlers in the world, he survived by clinging to the wreckage for hours until he was rescued. He developed severe oil poisoning due to being in the water for so long, and was put ashore in Africa to recover. Still, less than a year later, he was back to competing in track meets in England.
Back home in Windsor he was an active athlete, worked as a coach and lent his time to a variety of sports organizations.