INSTANT REPLAY: Whatever happened to… Jay Dahlgren?
Jay Dahlgren competed for Canada internationally for 10 years at the very highest level in track and field’s throwing events during the 1960s and ’70s.
It’s been 46 years now since she graduated from Delbrook and packed her shot, discus and javelin off to Kingston, Jamaica, for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games to compete in her very first major international games at the age of 17. It was Aug. 4-13, 1966.
She came back with a record that may never be broken as she finished third in javelin, seventh in discus and eighth in shot put, making her the only Canadian female to finish in the top eight in all three events in any of the three major competitions: Commonwealth Games, Pan-American Games and Olympics. Nowadays hardly anyone even tries to compete in all three disciplines, each requiring very different mechanics.
But if you ask Jay what are her best memories from her lengthy time in track and field, she doesn’t mention that bronze medal in Jamaica, or the bronze she won in the javelin in the Pan-Am Games the next year in Winnipeg or a third bronze she earned in 1970 at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
Instead – when we talked this week after I tracked her down at home in the historic little mining village of Cumberland, 10 kilometres from Courtenay in the Comox Valley where she’s lived the past five years – she responds without hesitation with two favourite memories from 1966 and one from 1975, the years bookmarking her international career.
The first she says are the messages her classmates signed in her Delbrook annual at graduation in June 1966, wishing her well in the Commonwealth Games that summer. She still has the yearbook in a safe place and tells me she even had it out to look at just a few months ago.
Her second favourite memory was shaking Prince Philip’s hand while he was giving out the medals at the podium ceremony in Jamaica following the javelin competition on Aug. 11, 1966. Her hand was dirty, sticky with pitch accumulated during the competition. When she realized who was going to present the medals, she tried to clean her hand with a tissue which of course stuck to her hand in little pieces. She apologized but Philip was gracious about it and they shook hands anyway.
Her third memory occurred on June 29, 1975, at a meet in Finland in a little place called Pihtipudas, whose main claim to fame is apparently its annual javelin festival. In fact the country’s Olympic history is steeped in the javelin. Finnish men have won seven gold medals in the event and twice (1920 and 1932) the country claimed all three Olympic medals. So it was a javelin-only meet, she explains, as she recalls the sight of all these little girls out on the field throwing javelins, marvelling that no one got hit by one of the spears.
Finland was just one of the countries, mostly in Europe, she travelled to in order to test herself against the giants of the throwing world. She also competed in Japan in 1969, winning the javelin in a Tokyo meet. In addition to the gold medal – actually her favourite medal she notes – the winners were presented with a miniature cast-iron samurai helmet surrounded by purple silk and encased in a beautiful bamboo box. It’s one of her favourite gifts received during her travels.
Jay was born in Vancouver on Dec. 7, 1948. However, since her father was in the military as a flying instructor and fighter jet pilot, the family moved a lot, living in Winnipeg; Alberta (Calgary, Cold Lake, Claresholm and Fort McLeod); and Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and three separate times in Ottawa), before her dad retired and the family moved back west to North Vancouver. Jay took Grade 11 at Handsworth and broke the North Shore meet’s senior records in both the shot (36’ 10 ¾”) and discus (127’ 2 ½”), eclipsing the meet records by a monster six feet in the shot and almost 35 feet in the discus.
But Handsworth did not participate in the tradition-laden Vancouver & District inter-high meet, choosing only the North Shore meet because the V&D required schools to give all their students the day off to attend the meet. Handsworth – unlike a number of other North Shore schools – didn’t want to let school out for two full days and the all-day North Shore meet was where more of its athletes would be competing.
So in order to take on the best in all of the Vancouver area and to go for the prestigious V&D meet records, Jay transferred to now-long-gone Delbrook for her Grade 12 year. In those days there were no sports eligibility rules regarding transferring schools even as late as your final year.
Delbrook competed in both meets and Jay demolished her own NS records in the shot (41’2”) and discus (136’11”) on May 31, 1966, at Empire Stadium. Those records still exist almost half a century later, some thinking they must be a misprint because the winners over the years have never come close to those marks.
At the V&D meet, Jay shattered those meet marks too with distances of 43’ 6 ¾” and 135’ 8 ½”. Ironically, Handsworth elected to participate in both meets that year for the first time.
There were no javelin events in high school meets then but in the spring of 1966 she picked up a javelin and her Vancouver Olympic Club coach John Freeman suggested she try it out. Canadian javelin history was about to be made. Jay won the Canadian championships seven times between 1966 and 1975. She didn’t compete in the other three.
Her best throw in competition was 186’ 7 ½” (56.88m) in Winnipeg at the Canadians on Aug. 27, 1974. But she considers making it to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, where she placed 13th, as her top accomplishment.
After retiring from the world of spear throwing, she taught in the Stikine school district in northwestern B.C. and then in Prince George where she was involved in the development of the B.C. Alternative Education Association and the province’s alternate education curriculum.
After 25 years of teaching, she left to work in landscape architecture, helping with drawings of the new Mt. Washington sports centre and with a wilderness riding facility in Sayward. She also did construction on Bowen Island. She’s taught Nordic skiing. She volunteered during the 2010 Winter Olympics at the Callaghan Valley events. Presently she’s taking care of the grounds of a private lodge on Vancouver Island.
It’s been a long time since she’s thrown the javelin in a big international meet. But when a sports historian calls to talk, the memories are still there.
This is episode 466 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.