The voice of a Trail native was golden at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, despite generating a wee controversy.
Garry Hill’s Olympian feats were not accomplished on the track or in the water, but behind a microphone, his laurels won for elocution, experience, and knowledge as track and field announcer at Olympic Stadium in London.
The Olympic ringleader informed and entertained a capacity crowd for the two-week event, introducing over 2,000 athletes in 47 events and narrating their accomplishments throughout the Games.
Hill is a veritable icon in the track world. The 65-year-old has over 40-years experience in the sport, is the editor-owner of the highly regarded Track and Field News, has announced at countless track meets including World Championships and Olympic Trials, and was the voice at no less than four Summer Olympic Games.
In spite of his success or because of it, the former Trail Times delivery boy fondly recalls growing up in the Silver City.
“It (Trail) is one of the best places on the planet,” Hill said from his home in Los Altos, Calif. Friday. “I guess all baby boomers have a rather inflated view of their importance. In the wake of the war, it was really a wonderful time to grow up, everybody’s economy was booming, everyone was having lots of kids, there was new prosperity, and Trail had absolutely everything a kid could possibly want.”
Hill competed with the Trail Athletics Association in the early 60s, the golden age of track and field with Olympic caliber athletes such as Gerry Moro, Dianne Gerace, Barry Johnson and Bob Yard. Hill was no slouch either, setting the B.C. record in the triple jump in 1964.
“He was a very good athlete,” said Trail Track and Field Club coach Dan Horan, a contemporary of Hill’s. “I remember him quite well actually . . . He was a long jump, triple-jump guy – you have to be very good to get a full-ride scholarship.”
Hill graduated from J. L. Crowe in 1965 before heading to Washington State University on an athletic scholarship, but like many Trail athletes, he attributes his success in track – and in life – to the late Willi Krause,
“He was the sport for 20-plus years,” said Hill. “Other than my father of course, he was the guy I really looked up to. He was a philosopher, a deep thinker in addition to being still the best technical coach I’ve come across in all my years in the sport.”
But Hill was never certain where his path would lead. At one point he was a pre-med student, then thought about teaching P.E., and eventually graduated with a degree in bacteriology in public health. But it was a hobby cultivated in his final summer in Trail, when suffering from a case of mononucleosis, that made the difference.
“I spent most of the summer locked in the house, and I had nothing better to do so I started getting into the statistical side of track and field, and then a couple years later, I discovered this magazine existed that did all kind of things that I liked so that sort of became my dream.”
However, the dream seemed an impossible one, with only one statistician at the magazine, the chance of a position opening was remote – or so Hill thought.
“Miraculously, just when I was about finished with school, and would have been targeted to run a sewage plant somewhere in Washington, the job came open, and I applied for it,” he said.
He started in the position of statistician and became one of the youngest members ever of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians, creating several innovations in the sport’s record keeping which have been adopted worldwide.
The rest as they say is history. Hill worked his way through the ranks to the top job at Track and Field News and began announcing at track meets almost 20 years ago.
Despite his wealth of experience and knowledge, a minor controversy arose in London when a British newspaper questioned the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) wisdom of choosing a foreigner with a Canadian accent to call the shots for the Games. London’s Daily Mail complained that there were a number of eminently qualified British announcers in line for the coveted spot.
“To me it wasn’t a controversy, for one, you have to understand the nature of the British tabloids and the Daily Mail that started it in the first place; you know, anything to sell papers. There was some discussion at the organizing level . . . but the problem was they didn’t have a suitable counter offer. In other words it’s not just your accent, it’s your knowledge of the sport and the federation’s protocol that they want things done a certain way.”
Hill also shared announcing duties with Englishman Geoff Whiteman, and the IAAF backed him throughout the brief tempest in a teapot.
“I let my body of work speak for itself, and I can’t imagine at the end of the day, anybody is going to go, ‘ Wow that was terrible.’
Indeed, by the end of the Olympics people were stopping Hill going in and out of the stadium telling him how much they enjoyed his work. Which is understandable, Hill is hard to miss in his deafening Hawaiian shirts and casual sandals. Also, at the start of a day’s session Hill and his British counterpart would be broadcast on the stadium big screen to introduce the day’s events and trade barbs to warm up the crowd.
“Since I was about the only guy in London who apparently owns such gear, I was rather easy to spot, even in a crowd.”
It’s long been part of Hill’s panache that he punctuates his professionalism with moments of levity in an otherwise very serious competition.
“You have to understand that stadium announcing is nothing like TV or radio . . . My style is old school, in other words I’m trying to ensure that people understand what’s happening. If I can give them a good laugh now and then, I will.”
Whether it’s cheering on Cuban pole vaulting silver medalist Yarisley Silva by shouting “Hi Ho Silva Away,” or after a Patrick Stewart interview, Hill mustered his best Jean Luc Picard imitation, “… and on the infield, we’re back to the decathlon long jump,” and then, channeling his most stentorian voice, added, “Make it so, Number 1.”
Despite such moments, the workload and sheer volume of events going on at one time is cumbersome, and Hill needs to be prepared, think quickly on his feet and be verbally dexterous to be effective. But as he says, at the end of the day, there’s no place he’d rather be.
“It’s really hard to beat the announcing. I mean it’s not a money-paying proposition, you do it solely for the glory. There is obviously nothing quite like the feeling of sitting in a stadium and saying something and 80,000 people – or in the case of the Bird’s Nest four years ago – 91,000 people stop and pay attention, and if you tell them to stand up, by God, they’ll all stand up.”
And as for his time in Trail, Hill says, “It was truly a remarkable place to grow up, and I think of it often . . . (But) I wouldn’t trade my job for anything else. I’m 65 and I still get to wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts to work about 300 days a year.”
Not a bad gig – eh?