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Daniel Igali

Two-time Olympic wrestler and 2000 gold medallist Daniel Igali is enshrined into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont. on September 21, 2012. Igali is the first Olympic gold medal wrestler in Canada’s history.

I grew up being told by my grandmother that dreams should be a size too big so we could fit into them. I have dreamt big dreams, since that charge as a ten year old. The biggest of them was to make it to the Olympics, the “big Show”, as my grand mother calls it.

16 years after what I thought was my first practice for the Olympics when I wrestled on the grass outside my primary school with a friend, I stood on a podium in Sydney, singing O, Canada, the anthem of a country whose name was foreign to me just ten years prior.

Jackson Bidei and Stoyne Panov, you gave me my first wrestling shoes and taught me freestyle and Greco roman wrestling. I am extremely grateful. On that podium in Sydney, I still remembered how heavy and awkward those shoes felt on my feet. Bayelsa, thank you for discovering me and encouraging me to stick with it.

Tom Murphy, I will continue to thank you for taking a chance on a terrified kid who walked up to a complete stranger 18 years ago to ask for a place to stay. Satnam Johal, you taught me that relatives are not only connected through blood lines. Mike Jones and Dave McKay, my strategist and enforcer, what else can I say about you that I have not said before? You told me to continually push the envelope, because only then do we know our boundaries. And push it we did.

Maureen Matheny, it is well with you where you are. You taught me about focus and instilled in me the need to attach as much importance to my school work as I did for wrestling. Paul Nemeth, Wayne Wilson, Rick Tkach, Bob McCormack, my training partners and friends at Burnaby Mountain and the Canadian national wrestling team, especially Nick, Justin and Steve Rose, thanks for helping to break the jinx.

Simon Fraser University Wrestling, BC Wrestling and Canada wrestling, thanks for giving me the platform and support to excel. Cheerios, Baldhead systems, Sports Canada, The See you in Fund, the Canadian Olympic Committee and all other sponsors, thanks for ensuring that I never lacked the basic necessities during my active years.

To the press that ensured an obscure sport also got its place in the Sun, I thank you. Randy Starkman, a journalist with a conscience, an uncommon friend; the best there was; I wish you were here, as you had always been. It can never be the same without you prodding and poking. Please continue to write as you did, wherever you are.  May your soul rest in peace.

In 1997, in my freshman year at Simon Fraser University after posting a 36-0 record, I was asked by a reporter what my ambition was in wrestling. I told him that by the time my performances meet up with my abilities, I would be a world and Olympic champion. Somewhere, somehow, in that uncertain night in Ankara and that eerie night in Sydney, I believe my performances met up with my abilities.

CANADA, thanks for the opportunities you gave to a kid who never saw a car till the age of ten to excel in a profession that I can never match doing anything else. I thank you all for this immense honour and may God bless all of you…

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