Scoring a first for Canada
Canada’s Lori Fung took her place in Olympic history when she became rhythmic gymnastics’ first ever gold medallist at Los Angeles 1984.
The pursuit of success
Born in Vancouver, Lori Fung took up rhythmic gymnastics in the 1970s, when it was still a relatively unknown sport. Embarking on a single-minded pursuit of success, she trained with the ribbon, hoops, ball and clubs for up to six hours a day and in 1982 became Canadian champion, at the age of 19. It was around that time that the sport was added to the Olympic programme, giving Fung an extra incentive to push herself even harder.
“The training was difficult,” she recalls, discussing her punishing daily schedule. “There were days when it wasn’t always fun. Everybody sees the final picture. They see the glory of the competition and everything all put into place, but prior to that there were many tears, there were many days where I just didn’t know if I could take one more step… I had wonderful support from coaches and family, giving me that incentive to keep on going. I developed an almost stubborn attitude in myself: I will always do everything with 150 per cent. Not 90 per cent. Not 99 per cent. Nothing’sgood enough unless it’s over 100 per cent.”
On top in LA
With rhythmic gymnastics set to make its Olympic debut at Los Angeles 1984, Fung stepped up her preparations, continuing her school studies by correspondence as she devoted her energies to fulfilling her dream. Despite retaining her Canadian title in 1983 and 1984, she was something of an unknown on the international stage and was ranked only 23rd in the world when the LA Games came around. The outsider belied her lowly world ranking during the all-around competition – the one and only event on the Olympic programme at the time – producing a graceful and technically flawless performance that drew rapturous applause from the American crowd. The persevering Canadian’sefforts were also good enough for gold, as she edged out the favourite, Doina Staiculescu of Romania, to be crowned rhythmic gymnastics’ first Olympic champion.
The power of sport
“Sport changed my life completely,” she explains. “After winning the Olympics I realised how much I had grown as a person. I think that the biggest experience for me was after the Olympics. Everyone thinks it would be the Olympics and the moment of hearing the national anthem, but it was really coming back to a city full of pride, people stopping me on the street, in the shopping malls, just waving when they see me drive by, saying, ‘Hey, you made me feel so incredible’. I was always one of the people watching the Olympics before that, and always being proud of our Canadian athletes, and now I was on the other side of the block and I gave them that feeling. That made me more understanding about what sport does for a whole community, a whole country.”
The benefits of sport
Fung’s exploits on the mat earned her star status in her native Canada. All well as giving performances for Pope Jean-Paul II, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and the Canadian prime minister, she was also made a member of the Order of Canada, an honour that came her way in 1985. Though intent on defending her title of Seoul 1988, she was laid low by a virus and a bout of tendinitis, which forced her to bring her career to a premature end.
She later started a family, moved into coaching and opened her own gymnastics school, putting as much energy into those enterprises as she did into gymnastics. “If you participate with your whole, entire heart… you’re going to get benefits out of it,” she explains. “Sometimes those benefits aren’t seen until many years later in life. I’m still finding myself in different positions. I’m doing things that I never thought I would be able to do and I think that all came from my training in sport.”