07/13/2012 04:15 EDT | Updated 09/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Olympic Time Capsule: A team of one

Before we are overwhelmed with the largesse of the 2012 Summer Games in London, it’s worth taking a step back to 1948 and the last time the Games were held in England.

Men and women were still hauling away piles of bricks and mortar that were left over from the aerial bombardment that destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure during the early years of the Second World War. Food, gasoline and building supplies were still being rationed.

Many locals thought the international celebration of athletic prowess was wildly irresponsible. Better to spend limited resources on rebuilding the country.

Male athletes from around the world were housed in schools, military camps and private homes. Female athletes were put up in colleges. The BBC paid $2,500 for the rights to broadcast events into 500,000 homes in Britain.

In Canada a gallon of gas cost 16 cents. An outing to the movies lightened your pocket by 60 cents and an investment of $1,800 would get you a modest bungalow on a quiet city street. A full-time job in a booming factory would bring you an average salary of just under $3,000. You get the picture.

It was the time when an Olympic athlete was truly a dedicated amateur, someone who competed for the glory of the competition. Training was restricted to moments between shifts and on weekends, even though Sunday was a time for family and worship. These athletes weren’t allowed to receive money from a generous sponsor or a government agency. The sweat and aching muscles from hours of lonely training came second to earning a living.

One of the young Canadian men who made it to the Games was canoeist Norm Lane. He trained at Toronto’s Balmy Beach club, where he was well known as an outstanding paddler.

One of his toughest local competitors and eventual Olympic teammates happened to be Bert Oldershaw of the Island Canoe Club in Toronto. That last name may be familiar — this year, Mark Oldershaw represents the third generation of Oldershaws to represent Canada at the Olympics as a paddler. His father, Scott, competed in 1984.

As a 29-year-old athlete, Norm Lane trained pretty well in isolation. There was no coach or psychologist to consult on a daily basis and his paddling consultants were his friends at Balmy Beach. But let there be no doubt — he was good and there was little doubt that he would be selected to paddle for Canada in the C-1 10,000 metres, a grueling endurance event.

In this modern era, Canada’s best athletes can call on the services of a physiologist, sports psychologist, biomechanist, nutritionist, physical therapists/athletic therapist and a physician. And that’s just the beginning.

Soon after Lane was selected for the Olympics he received a neatly typed memo that presented him with his “Diet Schedule.” Lane still has those instructions, typed on faded yellow paper. They are a stark reminder of how the life of an Olympic athlete has changed. Here’s how it reads.


- Two or three oranges — not the juice, the whole orange.

- A whole-grain cereal with skim milk and sweetened with honey.

- A poached egg with a couple pieces of dark rye or Hovis bread (you can use butter or margarine).

- Finish off with a piece of dry toast with honey.

- You are allowed a cup of coffee or tea, preferably you should have a glass of hot Ovaltine.


- If you feel like a snack between breakfast and lunch try to make it fruit. If you eat candy try to make it fudge or toffee. However the fruit is much to be preferred.


- A large tomato or orange juice, better still a couple of oranges.

- For the main course have a large fruit salad or vegetable salad, if you want a hot meal have a vegetable plate with as many vegetables as you can get.

- If you take your lunch, make your sandwiches from dark rye or Hovis bread and use lean meat or cheese or fowl as your filling, but try to take with you a good serving of lettuce or celery or carrots and any other fresh vegetable you like.

- Peanut butter sandwiches are also permissible. If you take sandwiches have one honey sandwich with lots of honey on it if you are going to a workout without eating again.

- For dessert have bran muffins preferably with fruit in them, jello or ice cream preferably a fresh fruit sundae.

- For beverage have milk or Ovaltine, if you feel you need it have a cup of tea or coffee, especially if you are feeling in the need of a jack-up.


- Same idea as for morning snack. Dried fruits such as figs, apricots or raisins, especially figs or apricots make a wonderful snack as far as good nutrition is concerned. They are tasty too.


- Large tomato or fruit juice of a good soup, your best possible soup is bean soup or pea soup.

- For your main course try to have a good lean meat, fish, or poultry, if possible have liver two or three times a week, at least twice.

- Have your potatoes roasted or boiled.

- Eat as many vegetables with this as you can but try to make sure you have one green and one yellow or red vegetable.

- For dessert, bran muffins with fruit in them, oatmeal cookies, corn meal muffins, fresh fruit or stewed fruit.

- Beverage, milk or Ovaltime, preferably Ovaltine

- Tea or coffee if you feel in need of a lift.

- If you use any bread make sure it is dark rye or hovis.

Bedtime Snack

- Ovaltine and cheese, lean meat, or peanut butter sandwich (with dark rye or Hovis bread).

- A honey sandwich is also very good.

- As an alternative have some fresh fruit as a salad with dark rye or Hovis bread and butters.

- A fresh fruit salad with dark rye or Hovis bread and a large glass of Ovaltine would be ideal.


- After a hard work-out always make sure you replenish properly. Take a few glucose tablets before you leave the work-out and then when you get home have a good meal that includes lots of fresh fruit and if possibly plenty of cheese or lean meat. A couple of large glasses of Ovaltine will also help.

- This is strictly up to you, but I would like nothing better than to see you eat a minimum of a pint of yogurt per day. You can take this yogurt mixed with your fruit salad (it’s terrific), or take half and half with orange juice or some other fruit juice. I cannot impress upon the wonderful benefits of yogurt to the athlete, especially when used for breakfast, before work-outs, and after work-outs. It is especially good when taken at the pre-practice meal. If necessary take it as a medicine for a few weeks (which you will).

Those were the rules. But no one monitored Lane’s daily diet, and there was no coach checking on him or hectoring when he broke the rules. There was no dietician to consult. There was no one to pay for the food. Everything was left to Lane.

It was the same thing for his workouts. He received typed written instructions from afar for drills that would build his upper body, strengthen his core muscles and increase his endurance. They were all typed on yet another set of instructions.

Lane was a determined man. He adopted the diet that fueled his regular workouts. He became tough and he became strong.

Norm Lane brought back a bronze medal for Canada. He says that when he stood on the podium, tears streamed down his cheeks, just as they did when he recounted his story of the 1948 Olympic Games in London.