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Sports This Week: Jones Konihowski earns national recognition

Came to fame in Saskatoon
diane jones konihowski
Diane Jones Konihowski was a noted pentathlete for Canada.
YORKTON - When you grew up a sports fan in Saskatchewan through the 1970s and into the 80s one athlete that would have had your attention was Diane Jones Konihowski. 

In a province where the ruling triumvirate of sport has long been the Roughriders, hockey and curling Jones Konihowski caught headlines and attention for her efforts in track and field. 

Jones Konihowski was born in B.C., but grew up in Saskatoon, and she still relates to this province as home. 

“Saskatoon and Saskatchewan hold a very important place in my heart,” she said in a recent interview. 

Of course this is where she rose to prominence as a pentathlete. 

For those unfamiliar the pentathlon event for women was introduced at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, featuring the 80 metres hurdles, shot put and high jump on the first day, with long jump, and 200 metres on the second day. The 1976 and 1980 Summer Olympics versions changed the format from 80 to 100 metres hurdles, and 200 to 800 metres The event was discontinued in 1984, when it was replaced by the heptathlon. 

In the case of Jones Konihowski she would become the 1978 Commonwealth Champion as well as winning two gold medals at two Pan-American Games, as well as representing Canada at two Summer Olympics. 

Those achievements are a big part of the reason Jones Konihowski will be inducted into the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame at the upcoming 65th Order of Sport Induction. 

“I was really surprised,” she said, adding she actually asked “really? Are you kidding me?” when they called. 

Jones Konihowski said she had sat on the selection committee for the Hall of Fame for a decade “so I knew how hard it was to get in the Hall.” 

Even reaching the pinnacle of a sport, such as an Olympic gold medal, was not always enough to be chosen. 

“Not every gold medalist is going to get into the Hall,” said Jones Konihowski. 

But a couple of years ago the Hall of Fame changed its focus just a tad to have inductees now go in under the ‘Order of Sport’.  

While athletic achievement remains a focus for induction, the Order of Sport looks at what athletes do after they retire too. 

“It’s a more holistic award – what have you done to give back to your community,” explained Jones Konihowski. 

And in terms of give-back Konihowski excelled. Her Hall bio notes, “at the national level, she became Director of Marketing for Canada’s first National Sport Centre in 1994.  In 2000, she served as Chef de Mission with the Canadian Olympic Team in Sydney, Australia. From 1986 to 2010, she was a Director on a variety of national Boards - Coaching Association of Canada, Canadian Centre for Drug Free Sport, KidSport Canada, and the Canadian Olympic Committee. She was Chair of Fair Play Canada and the Petro-Canada Olympic Torch Scholarship Fund for a number of years.” 

And the list could go on. 

“I never really left sport,” she said. 

So what is she proudest of, her athletic achievements or her countless hours of volunteer work? 

“I’d have to say a little of both,” she said. 

Jones Konihowski said she is still getting women coming up to her today telling her how what she accomplished as an athlete inspired them. That remains important for someone who was very much involved in promoting sport even as she competed. 

“The media loved me. I was always a really good interview,” she said, adding that gave her a platform to educate on sport and to inspire others to pursue excellence. 

“You get a podium or you don’t but being a role model is very powerful ... It really makes a difference.” 

On the education side it included the media itself who at times look at something like a 10th place in the 1972 Summer Olympics or a sixth in 1976 as a failure, but she notes those sort of placings are still among the world elite. She likened it to bobsledding where 2/100th of a second can keep a team off the podium. 

“That’s the blink of an eye,” she noted. “. . . It puts athletic performance in perspective.” 

As for sitting on a bevy of boards, Jones Konihowski said that too provides its own fulfillment. 

“There’s a great satisfaction I get in my volunteer work,” she said. 

But back to the field where people most fondly remember Jones Konihowski, what memory remains sharpest for her? 

It was the Commonwealth Games gold won on home soil in Edmonton, a moment tied to perhaps her greatest disappointments too. 

The 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal hurt when Jones Konihowski missed the podium. 

“I could have got a medal at those Games, but I wasn’t prepared enough,” she admits years later. 

Jones Konihowski had gone to California to train, but was returning to Canada often to promote the Games as she was the poster girl for the Olympic coins. Without complete dedication to training she wasn’t ready. 

“I wasn’t the lean, mean athlete I could have, should have been,” she said. She placed sixth. 

But, it was something that fired her to be better. 

“We only learn from our failures, our disappointments,” said Jones Konihowski. 

So she backed off banquets and media and prepared harder, winning in Edmonton. 

“I was primed and ready to go,” she said, adding from Edmonton she could see the podium of the upcoming 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. 

But, Canada was one of the countries that chose to boycott the games due to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, and Jones Konihowski did not get the chance to medal, although two weeks after the Moscow Olympics, she competed in the pentathlon in Germany; winning gold beating all the Olympic medallists. It was a bittersweet win. 

So what about the upcoming virtual induction, which bring this year’s celebration to all Canadians and include dynamic engagement with the 2020-21 Class of Inductees, a special performance by Canadian musical legend Jim Cuddy and the wonderful opportunity for fans, friends and supporters to be a part of this year’s award ceremony, noted a release. 

Jones Konihowski said being virtual certainly opens the door for a broader audience than the 800 who might traditionally attend the banquet. 

And, of course it’s a big night for her. 

“It’s really an acknowledgment of my sporting career, and acknowledgement of my volunteer career,” she said, adding she appreciates it is the highest honour in sport in this country, “That kind of says it all.” 


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