Yzerman, Lewis among Canada's Sports Hall of Fame inductees

The Canadian Press

5/13/2008 4:43:56 PM

TORONTO - The images of Robert Esmie crouched in the starting blocks, the words ''Blast Off'' shaved into his hair, and a grinning Donovan Bailey crossing the finish line with arms raised are among the most enduring in Canadian sport.

Esmie, Bailey, Glenroy Gilbert and Bruny Surin, along with Carlton Chambers, who ran the preliminary rounds, teamed up to capture gold in the relay at the 1996 Olympics, upsetting the Americans on their home turf.

Now, 12 years later, the men's 4x100-metre relay team is headed to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, in an illustrious class that includes boxer Lennox Lewis, hockey's Steve Yzerman, swimmer Nancy Garapick, and short-track speedskater Marc Gagnon.

Longtime figure skating official David Dore and former Toronto Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick are being inducted as builders.

''This really is where you aspire to get to, especially when we were running at that level, hoping that we would be seen as potential inductees one day,'' Gilbert said from his home in Ottawa. ''So to me it really is a very humbling honour to be in that group.

''My mom (Valma) was more excited that Lennox Lewis and Steve Yzerman are going in,'' Gilbert added, laughing. ''She was like, `Will I get to meet them if I go?'''

The inductees will be honoured at a gala dinner Nov. 5 in Toronto.

Surin does public speaking for businesses and schools, and always opens by playing footage of the historic relay run.

''When they called me to say that our team was to win this award, it was a great honour because that was one of my best races of my career,'' Surin said from Montreal, where he has his own sports agency. ''To receive that honour just adds more value to what we achieved.''

Lewis, who went on to fight for England, captured gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, knocking out Riddick Bowe to take the super heavyweight title.

As a professional, he collected the World Boxing Council title, recording wins over Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, in an eight-round knockout. His record at his retirement in 2004 was 41 wins including 32 knockouts, two losses and a draw.

Yzerman played his entire career with the Detroit Red Wings, becoming their youngest captain in 1986 at the age of 21, and leading them to Stanley Cup titles in 1997, '98 and 2002. He retired in 2006 as one of hockey's most popular players, standing sixth in all-time NHL scoring and eighth in regular-season goals.

''I really enjoy the honour and appreciate the honour,'' Yzerman said in Halifax, where he's the general manager of Team Canada's entry at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. ''I am a sports fans and take note of Canadians participating in sports all around the world.''

Yzerman was a 10-time NHL all-star, captured the Lester B. Pearson Award in 1989 as the league's outstanding player, the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in '98 and led Canada to gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Garapick was just 14 years old when she broke the world 200-metre backstroke record in 1975. She went on to capture a pair of bronze medals in backstroke events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, her third-place finishes coming against swimmers from the drug-fuelled East German squad.

Gagnon tore up the short-track oval, collecting five Olympic medals - three gold and two bronze. His medal haul is the most by a Canadian male athlete in Winter Olympic history, and second in Canadian sports.

In the builder category, Gillick served as general manager of the Blue Jays from the team's inception in 1977 through the 1994 season, winning the American League East five times and the World Series twice.

His teams in Toronto enjoyed 11 consecutive winning seasons and he remains widely regarded as one of the most intelligent GMs in the game.

''I feel quite honoured and quite thrilled about it,'' Gillick said from Philadelphia, where he's now general manager of the Phillies. ''Even though I'm the one being honoured, to me it's more of an organizational situation. What we did when I was there couldn't have been done without not only the baseball people, but everyone from the ownership.

''It was a complete team effort.''

Dore is credited with turning the Canadian Figure Skating Association into one of sport's most successful organizations in his almost 17 years as president and director. He helped develop the national team program, successful marketing that attracted major sponsors and television contracts, and create an Athletic Trust, which has funded over 5,000 skaters to a total of $15 million over the past 20 years.

Under Dore's leadership Skate Canada's assets have grown from $285,000 in 1980 to the present $17 million and annual revenues have grown by 400 per cent.