Standing in front of the large crowd of Yukoners that had gathered earlier this month at Sport Yukon for an Olympic pep rally, Greig Bell made no effort to contain his excitement.
Microphone in hand and donning a black and silver long sleeved shirt with “Yukon” splashed across the front, the long time Yukoner paced back and forth with a passionate glow that can only be displayed by a proud parent … and Bell is certainly that.
His son Zach, born and raised in Watson Lake, is one of just two Yukoners competing at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
“I don’t know if you really think about him as an Olympian until he’s out there competing on the world stage,” explains the senior Bell when asked how it feels to have a child at the Olympics. “To me he’s still just Zach. He’s just really good at what he does and if you met him you’d see he really hasn’t changed much and he’s still the same kid.”
Greig says that is evident just by looking at the socks Zach wears when he races.
“They say ‘Dopers Suck’ and he has them on every time he competes,” smiles Bell, “Unless told otherwise, he’ll be sure to show them off in Beijing.”
Bell says early on he always knew his son had a gift for sports.
“At the age of three he was wrestling his giant stuffed bear, putting arm bars on it and taking him down,” explains Bell. “He won his first Yukon Championship at eight years old and was a National wrestling champion at 14.”
But, Greig says it was even before that that Zach had his first taste of competitive sports.
His mother was a participant in the 1982 Arctic Winter Games competing as a cross country skier.
After placing sixth in the race and posting times well below her average, she became concerned and somewhat flustered.
As it would turn out, Mom was pregnant with the future Olympian.
“I kind of had a feeling,” says Greig with a smile. “Zach’s first Arctic Winter Games he was a three-week old fetus, so he was kind of born into it.”
The senior Bell says it is all still a very unreal feeling to know his son is competing on Canada’s cyclist team at the Olympics, as it was only five years ago that Zach first turned to the sport of cycling.
After injuring his back while wrestling competitively, he decided it was time to switch sports.
“That was in October and by the following summer he was racing professionally and winning races,” says Bell as he shakes his head in wonderment.
Greig says his son’s rapid success in the cycling world is not all that surprising to him though.
“He’s a hard working kid and he sets goals and he works toward them and he’s fully aware that the road to achieving anything isn’t without bumps,” explains Greig. “He knows how to fail and take failure and use it to make him come back and do better and that’s how he’s gotten to where he is today.”
Greig, who grew up wrestling and playing competitive football, is quick to shrug off taking any credit for Zach’s athletic achievements, but notes he is proud of sharing a longstanding Bell philosophy with Zach which he adopted at an early age in his life.
“My Dad told me something that really helped in my sports career and I passed that on to my son, and that is if you want to be the best than do your best because there are a lot of people out there that don’t,” said Bell.
“I always remember my Dad telling me that and he’s lived by that and it’s served him well and that is if you work hard and do your best you will definitely rise to the top.”
Greig says it was a tough decision not to make the trip to Beijing to watch his son race live but adds he has been on Skype daily with Zach and plans to be there in London at the 2012 Games.
“I’m starting to save now!” jokes Greig, adding Zach is planning a trip to the Yukon for a father-son canoe adventure in the early fall.
Greig, a teacher with the ACES program at Wood Street, is even hoping to bring along his class and possibly three other Olympians.
As for Zach’s medal hopes, Greig says he knows his son is a dark horse in Beijing but has also seen firsthand how quickly he has become one of the country’s top cyclists and knows he’s capable of special things.
In an interview before the Saturday morning race, that ran after press time, he said “I think I’ll start off a little calm, watch the race unfold,” said Bell, who plans to watch his son race from the comforts of his Whitehorse home … albeit in front of a computer as CBC will not be televising the race.
Even though there are hours and hours of beach volleyball available on the television, Greig points out ruefully, “Canada doesn’t even have a beach volleyball team entered.”
PHOTO: George Maratos