Stephen Schalk was in the thick of Canadian Olympic history once again, as he watched sprinter Andre De Grasse capture bronze and silver on the track at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The Team Canada superfan was front and centre in victory lane for the 100-metre to see De Grasse make the podium for the first time since Donovan Bailey won gold in 1996.
“You could just feel the anticipation, knowing that this was the first time since, potentially, Donovan Bailey, that we would medal, and that we had a really good shot at it,” Schalk said.
“The race is so quick and you don’t know if you made third or not. You know you didn’t get first or second, but the third place…”
Immediately after the athletes crossed the finish line, Schalk, who was up in the 10th row, bolted down the stairs to the bottom railing to throw a Canadian flag out to De Grasse.
Though the Canadian sprinter finished third at 9.91 seconds, good for a bronze medal, Schalk said he could tell De Grasse wasn’t happy with his result.
“You could see he was pretty disappointed,” said Schalk. “He had his hands on his head and looked frustrated. I threw him my flag and he picked it up and did his victory lap.
“It kind of shows you the true heart of a competitor, that even when you finish anything but first, you’re still wanting more. It was an amazing experience to be that close to him and that close to [Usain] Bolt as he finished, too, and having him celebrate right there.”
After the 100 metre race, Schalk and some fellow Canadian supporters headed over to the media area where athletes were being interviewed by various news organizations.
While supporters were chanting Usain Bolt’s name, Schalk pitched in by yelling the name of Scott Oake — a CBC reporter who was nearby talking to De Grasse and other athletes.
Following the 200-metre race, Schalk tried to head back up to the same area, but for some reason, likely stemming from his earlier antics, the security presence had been beefed up.
Schalk returned to the stadium four days later to support De Grasse once again for the 200-metre final, who sprinted to a silver medal at 19.78 seconds.
“I sold my left kidney to get a ticket for the 200-metre finals, but ended up having the worst seats in the house,” Schalk said. “I knew we’d be more effective cheerers if we were down on the bottom so I went down to the bottom and managed to make friends with a lot of the Brazilians.”
Schalk, who grew up in Cranbrook, was in Brazil to support his cousin, Chaim Schalk and teammate Ben Saxton, who competed for Team Canada in men’s beach volleyball and lost out in the round of 16.
“They were hoping for a medal, but they also realized the accomplishments of finishing in that spot — it’s an amazing thing to finish ninth in the world at the Olympics,” said Schalk.
During his Olympic sojourn, he had the chance to meet some Canadian Olympians and their families, including trampoline gold-medallist Rosie MacLennan, wrestling gold-medalist Erica Weibe, and bronze-medalist decathlete Damian Warner.
“All these Olympians are just people, and sitting down with the family of Rosie and really seeing that — these are normal people, they work normal jobs, they’re there to support their family, just like I’m there to support Chaim,” said Schalk.
During his time in Brazil, Schalk was very noticeable in his red and white morphsuit cheering for Team Canada at various events. In addition to being on Brazilian television, Schalk also got interviewed twice by the CBC.
However, now, it’s back to Grande Prairie and his dental practice.