Volume 95, Issue 63

Thursday, January 24, 2002
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A workout with a champion to remember

Beating the "Joe drum" to death

A workout with a champion to remember

By Dave Martin
Gazette Staff

How amazing would it be for Mats Sundin to be in charge of your team's hockey practice? Or Michael Jordan leading your basketball practice? Would you still think so if it were the hardest workout you've ever had?

Tuesday afternoon, the Western men's and women's wrestling teams got a sweaty taste of what it takes to be the best in the world from Canadian Olympic gold medal winner Daniel Igali.

Igali's "Keep Sweatin'" tour landed in London with the help of the London Amateur Wrestling and Athletic Club (LAWAC), who invited him to be the keynote speaker at a sports celebrity charity auction on Monday and spend time with three schools and the LAWAC on Tuesday.

Western head coach Ray Takahashi, who is also involved in LAWAC said it was an excellent chance for all his wrestlers to be involved.

"Igali's done tours like this before in Ontario, but we've never capitalized on him this much. LAWAC has gained more publicity through him and it's been a great opportunity for our teams," Takahashi said.

Although some team members may not be in agreement with their coach after waking up to the aches and pains on Wednesday, the excitement generated from kids participating seemed to signify the event was a success.

Allen Chen/Gazette
COME ON AND DO THE HOKEY-POKEY WITH ME. Olympic gold medalist Daniel Igali led a crowd of delighted fans through an intense workout, as he visited London Tuesday as part of his "Keep Sweatin'" tour.
Afterwards, a different Igali than the one witnessed running such a focused, high-tempo practice, sat down to quietly discuss the appeal of his tour.

"A lot of these kids have seen me on TV and watched the Olympics, so to come face-to-face for them would be a huge thrill. Not only do I see the excitement in them, but also I get a lot of e-mails from kids saying how much of an effect it had on them," he said.

"It's really fulfilling for me too, as I remember being young and looking up to heroes as well."

Igali's life is an inspiring tale of overcoming odds. A native of Nigeria, he first came to Canada in 1994 to compete in the Commonwealth Games held in British Columbia.

Obviously his first impression of Canada made a big impact on him, as Igali forfeited his return trip to Nigeria to create a new home and new life as a Canadian citizen in Surrey, B.C..

Although the freedom of Canada was an incredible gift for Igali, he said some things were a difficult adjustment.

"Obviously the climate was a major issue and the change in culture and people, but leaving all my friends and that life behind and starting here with no money at all was the hardest," he said.

"Once I started getting friends, things seemed a little easier and soon I was receiving all the support in the world that anyone could ask for, making life a lot better," he added.

His boyish grin is hard to forget, especially after seeing it spread ear-to-ear on the television broadcast from the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, as he draped a Canadian flag over himself and then spread it ceremoniously across the mat, bowing down on the flag.

"It's all a blur," he said recalling the victory. "I remember thinking about trying to have a good match going into the final, but after that, it was like I was in a complete daze."

When asked whether he'd actually seen footage of the match, once again that big smile broke over his face.

"Almost a thousand times," he replied.

Hopefully for Igali and all Canadians, he can flash that gold-medal smile once again two years from now in Athens, so that maybe he can add a little variety to his video library.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001