Dr. Gene Sutton didn’t look much like an Olympian. She resembled a kindly aunt or maybe your biggest fan. You know, the sort of person that was always there to support you when you played that crucial game or doubted yourself the most. She was there when you competed on your own. You looked up and there was Gene cheering you on — cheering all of Canada on.
She was a big part of the Olympic soul in this country and now she’s gone.
For many years Gene Sutton was the unsung hero of the Canadian Olympic Committee, who sat on its executive council and reminded its board of directors that the Olympics should be about more than making money and sacrificing principle in order to win the most medals.
“I call her the conscience of the Olympic movement in Canada,” Chris Rudge, the head of the COC, has often said.
As the longtime chair of the Canadian Olympic Academy, the educational wing of the movement, Gene Sutton sent pilgrims to Olympia in ancient Greece to get in touch with the roots of the Olympics.
“It was a life changing experience for me,” recalled gymnast Alexandra Orlando, who competed in Beijing and only recently returned from the International Olympic Academy to learn of her mentor’s death.
“I’m still in shock,” Orlando said.
Gene Sutton worked tirelessly in an effort to bring the Commonwealth Games to Hamilton and was a driving force behind the Pan American Games bid for 2015. She taught sport and recreation at Mohawk College and judged gymnastics on a national and international level since anyone can remember.
In 2003, Gene led Team Canada as the chef de mission at the Pan Am Games in the Dominican Republic. Everyone swears she attended every event anyone who wore a Maple Leaf was involved in. She was the constant presence and the consummate cheerleader.
Gene was most at home in Olympia at the International Olympic Academy, a place she had lectured at many times. Maybe it was because she found like-minded people there from all over the world.
“It is the most beautiful and inspiring place I’ve ever been and I can’t wait to get back,” she once told me.
Maybe Gene Sutton is on her way there now to be at peace with her Olympic soulmates.
– Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. He has covered professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.