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Bruce Kidd won 18 national senior championships in middle and long-distance events during the 1960s and 1970s. He competed in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo; he won both a gold and bronze during the 1961 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in the six mile and 3 mile events, respectively. He excelled as an athlete enough that a movie called “The Runner” was made about him. Although Kidd was a prolific athlete, his academic and professional career eclipse what he accomplished on the roads and track, perhaps expressed most acutely in 2006, where he was appointed the Order of Canada.
He is a Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education and the Warden of Hart House at the University of Toronto. He received a Master of Arts in History in 1980 and a Ph.D. in History from York University, 10 years later.
Kidd joined the University of Toronto as a lecturer in 1970 and three years later he was appointed Assistant Professor and an Associate Professor in 1979. In 1991, he was appointed a Professor. He was formerly Director of the School of Physical and Health Education and Acting Director of the Department of Athletics and Recreation.
Kidd is an honorary member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and is the author of six books.
Christopher Kelsall: Are you the mysterious Canadian athlete from the 1964 Olympics that Arthur Lydiard suggested had done one workout too many? Are you familiar with the story?
Bruce Kidd: Yes I am that athlete and of course, he and Murray Halberg told me that at the time. They were probably right.
CK: When you were training in the 1950s – before the advent of volume-based training for middle-distance athletes, what did your training week look like?
BK: I like to think that I did high volume, with a five to six mile run in the morning and intervals in the afternoon, sometimes totalling 8 miles of hard running in the afternoon, with warm-ups and intervals in the addition. I frequently did 30-40 x 440 yards, 10 x 880 yards and 1 mile at tempo for example, if we raced on Saturday, we did something light on Friday and usually took Sunday off.
CK: You were honoured in 1985 by the United Nations Committee Against Apartheid with a special citation for your “valuable contribution as a sports person to the campaign for the elimination of apartheid and the establishment of a non-racial and democratic society in South Africa.” You have been honoured countless times, where does this citation rank beside all of your other accomplishments?
BK: I am very proud of this citation, because it recognises the role of sport in advancing the long struggle against racism and apartheid, and my own contribution to that. Although I began my activism while still and athlete, the United Nations Citation came well after my retirement from active competition. So it was also recognition of my post-running contributions. I feel good about that because some people still remember me primarily as an athlete.
CK: Can you tell me about your work to reduce racism and sex-discrimination in sport?
BK: I was a teammate and friend of the late Harry Jerome, and he pulled the wool from my eyes about the extent of racism in North American sport. My teammate and friend Abby Hoffman did the same for me on issues of gender discrimination. So while a graduate student at the University of Chicago and a member of the U of C track club, I became a supporter of the Olympic Project for Human Rights in build-up to the 1968 Olympics then and subsequently spoke out and wrote about the various efforts to combat racism in sports. At about the same time, I became involved in the struggle against apartheid sport, eventually serving as the Canadian Director of the International Campaign for many years, lobbying, speaking, teaching and writing in Canada and internationally. I also became a supporter of women’s rights in various campaigns, in the mainstream through my involvement in the New Democratic Party (I once ran as a NDP candidate provincial office) and in sport in the support of various test cases such as the Justine Blainey Case (the outstanding Toronto hockey player who was denied the right to play on a team that she had made, because was female).
Since I taught about sport policy, I was always able to include lectures, discussions and student essays on these issues in my teaching. When I became responsible for athletics at the University of Toronto – first as athletic director and then as the Dean, I helped initiate a transformational gender equity policy, and similar policies to combat racism, affirm sexual diversity and strengthen universal accessibility. To my knowledge, these policies were the first of their kind in Canadian universities.
CK: Your bio reads like a candidate to join the Elders. Have you looked at that for your retirement years?
BK: HA, HA!
CK: You have done work to fight the “Sedentary Death Syndrome”, as you have coined it.
BK: Not my phrase originally. I first heard it from my colleague, the exercise physiologist, Scott Thomas.
CK: Have you been up on the latest debate between elite athlete David Torrence and John “The Penguin” Bingham where Torrence blames TV for making running uncool.
BK: No, and I’m just not entirely sure what the explanation is – this is probably one factor, but there are many others like the decline in in-school and after-school sports. It is a complex issue that is exacerbated by the decline in the base of track and field in many communities.
CK: Well, according to Torrence the sport is broadcast like it was decades ago, while the more mainstream events like NASCAR, NBA, NHL, MLB et al, fill the viewer’s screen with live and historical stats and use special effects. Do you think the top end of the sport – if the viewer is served – will motivate youth to be physical?
BK: I think it does motivate some children and youth, but there has to be available quality and sustainable opportunities to do the sport to which you have been inspired. Lots of kids get motivated to do sports by seeing and hearing top athletes, but that motivation dissipates when they can’t follow up.