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IFT, Canal Run have long tradition/Paul Peterson

July 10, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

For a couple of events that many people thought wouldn't last on the Copper Country sporting scene, the International Frisbee Tournament and Canal Run have been remarkably durable.

The two events now rank high in summer viewing, but it wasn't always that way.

The IFT started out modestly at a family outing in Eagle Harbor in the late 1950s, but by the early 1970s it had grown into a fairly major event.

I remember being assigned to take a few pictures at the 1975 IFT. I asked someone at the Daily Mining Gazette just what the event was all about.

"It's pretty much a bunch of long-haired hippies, smoking pot and getting high," was the answer I received.

And while it was true there was a more than faint aroma of marijuana in the air at the crowded (about 5,000 spectators were on hand) South Range Snowmobile Grounds that particular day, there was also a lot of athleticism on display.

Catching a hard object like a frisbee being thrown at more than 75 miles an hour does require athleticism ... and yes, guts.

While I was pretty much a meat and potatoes baseball and football sports fan, I could appreciate what it took to compete in the sport.

But the popularity of the IFT had dipped sharply by the mid-1990s. The number of participants had declined sharply, mostly because older players were retiring. I can recall an event held near Condon Field when just four teams showed up. And there were no more than 30 people present.

But thanks to people like Dennis Walikainen of Hancock, the IFT has regained a good part of its former stature. Walikainen, a tireless promoter of the game, told me that the future would be shaped by younger players.

When the event took place at Agassiz Field in Calumet this past weekend, youth was served. His prediction was true.

The Canal Run was started in 1975 by WMPL Radio owner Bob Olson, who was an avid runner.

Olson, who once ran around Lake Superior, was also a tireless promoter who pretty much pioneered radio sports coverage in the Copper Country.

Still, the Canal Run was pretty much a gathering of a few avid runners in its early years, and most people considered it just a quirky collection of a few enthusiasts.

Olson convinced Detroit & Northern Bank to sponsor the event, which was growing steadily. Within 10 years, the event was attracting fields of more than 200 runners. The later addition of a 5-mile run and a 5-mile walk has added to its allure.

The Canal Run now brings in runners from all over the country, all of whom rave about the scenic course which runs along the Hancock Canal to downtown Hancock.

Shawn Oppliger of Hancock has been a consistent winner in the women's division. She once told me that running the course was just part of the experience.

"I know that I enjoy the scenery along the course as much as anything else. It's just a really unique course, different than most others you see."

This year's event will see more than 100 volunteers on hand - a far cry from the early years when Olson and his family were pretty much the support staff.

So, the next time you see what looks like a fairly obscure sports event being started, remember that the IFT and Canal Run had humble roots.

 
 

 

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