EDMONTON — Taylor Ruck has taken Elaine Tanner back in time and it has been a pleasant journey.
Ruck has ruled the waves at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast, just as Tanner took command of the swimming pool five decades ago in Kingston, Jamaica.
On Monday, both were proud owners of seven medals from a single Games, a Canadian record also held by another former swimmer, Bill Sawchuk, who turned the trick in Edmonton in 1978.
It is all but assured Ruck will surpass Tanner and Sawchuk on Tuesday morning, as the Canadian women swim the 4×100-metre medley relay final. Tanner, now 67 and living in Oakville, Ont., hopes it happens.
“I’m really proud of her. She’s such a diverse swimmer,” Tanner said. “She is a great ambassador for Canada, a lovely gal, and records are always made to be broken.
“And no matter what happens, it never erases my accomplishments. I still feel so happy and proud that I did it. In my heart that will never go away. I’m all for other people striving to be the best that they can be. At that time, in 1966, I was the best I could be. And I’m content with that.”
At age 15, Tanner came out of nowhere to surprise herself and the world with four gold and three silvers in Jamaica. Canadian swimmers were often bridesmaids then, but Tanner emerged as the most engaging face of the Games, and was nicknamed Mighty Mouse.
Ruck, a 17-year-old born in Kelowna, B.C., and raised in Arizona, was a known quantity only in swimming circles. She slipped into Australia under the public’s radar. Tanner recalled it as a comfortable place to be.
“She reminds me a lot of myself going into ’66 because I didn’t know how I was going to do,” Tanner said. “I was virtually untested at that time internationally. I was as much surprised by what I won as everybody else was. It’s a lovely way to go into an event, with no expectations.”
Ruck won gold in the 200m freestyle, silver in the 50m freestyle, 200m backstroke, 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle relays, and bronze in the 100m freestyle and 100m backstroke.
With the seventh medal dangling from her neck, she told reporters in Australia she wasn’t aware of the record, but she did look up to Tanner.
“She made some lovely comments and I was really flattered,” said Tanner, who was trying to reach out to Ruck by email on Monday to offer words of encouragement. She and husband John Watt have watched as much of the swimming as they can find on TV, and have come away impressed with Ruck and the rest of the Canadian team.
“I’m so proud of the team. They have earned a place on the world stage and they’re building a legacy. That’s important for the young girls, the young swimmers coming up. ‘If they did it, I can do it.’”
Ruck has broken through and may well ride a wave of momentum to the next Olympics. Tanner’s seven-medal performance in 1966 most certainly changed her life, starting with the plane ride home to Toronto.
“When we landed, I remember a stewardess came up to me and said, you have to get off the plane and go to the VIP lounge. I went, no, I don’t want to get off the plane by myself and go to the VIP lounge. I said I belong to the team. I want to go with the team. And besides, what’s VIP mean anyway? I hadn’t a clue.
Remember, this was 1966. No computers. No social media. Barely any TV coverage.
“I mean, we were still sending telegrams, you know,” Tanner said.
She got a taste of what was to come in that VIP lounge during her first media conference. Between popping flashbulbs and probing reporters, the shy kid from Vancouver found it uncomfortable. The pressure would build toward the 1968 Olympics too, and there were no sport psychologists to help her navigate that mental minefield. Nor did she have any teammates capable of take a share of the media pressure.
“I always saw myself as just the kid next door,” said Tanner. “I never figured that just because I swam fast it made me any different than my friends at school or anybody else.”
Her uncanny abilities in the pool — where she was particularly proficient in backstroke and butterfly — made her Mighty Mouse. Like the record, the nickname has endured.
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