By Doug Kennedy
It is hard to believe I am writing about another top Canadian sportswriter that grew up outside of Ripley, Beverley Smith. Her mother, Edith, unfortunately just passed away in November, while her father Charles still lives outside of Ripley. Three brothers, Kevin, Michael and David, are all retired and live in the area.
Smith attended school in Ripley, as they had an elementary school and a high school at that time. She was the valedictorian for her high school graduating class.
Her love for writing started at a young age and by the time she was 12, she was writing and illustrating books about horse racing.
Teachers in Ripley knew she was writing books while attending school. She told her bus driver to watch out for an up-and-coming horse named Secretariat that was about to run in the Kentucky Derby.
Her greatest influence was her piano teacher Marion Gamble, who read her books and told her she should get them published.
“It hadn’t occurred to me that somebody from Ripley could get published,” Smith said, but it put the idea into her head.
In school, she played all sports, but loved to run the most. She jogged along the side of the road before it became popular. She ran across the playground all through lunch hour, and once, classmate Ron Pollock joined her. Smith kept pace every step. He invited her to run a leg of the men’s relay race at field day at the school.
The first two years of her schooling were in a one-room school house, before it was closed down and students were sent to a central school in Ripley. When she was in Grade 13, there were only 93 students in the entire high school.
After high school, Smith attended Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, with the help of a Centennial scholarship, given out to only six people a year with an average higher than 90 per cent. She earned an average of 94.7 per cent, and had to maintain an A- average to keep it for the four-year program in English literature.
She was awarded an Ontario Graduate Scholarship which helped her to continue her studies at journalism school at the University of Western Ontario, where she earned a master of arts degree in journalism. At the end of the 12-month program, she won the Bob Gage Sports Award for being tops in the journalism school program. Classmates included Eric Duhatschek, who went on to be a well-known sportswriter in Canada and Leslie Scrivener, who followed Terry Fox on his journeys for the Toronto Star and later wrote a book about it.
Her first job out of university was at The Globe and Mail in Toronto. Smith started as one of 40 summer students, and the newspaper kept only two at the end of the summer. She was one of them. She got the summer job because a managing editor had seen a stack of books she had written about horse racing while at school in Ripley. She saw Northern Dancer win the Kentucky Derby when she was quite young, and that spurred her interest in the sport. She says Northern Dancer changed her life. She got a subscription to the weekly Thoroughbred Record, based in Kentucky when she was in Grade 9.
Her career has been a world-wide journey while working for The Globe and Mail. Her first overseas trip was to Munich, where she covered the world figure skating championships. In all, she has attended about 30 such championships and six Olympics. Smith devoted her life to being the best reporter she could be. At the Olympics in Calgary, the Globe and Mail gave her a key to the office, as she was always the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Smith was one of the first female sportswriters in the country. She covered horse racing, figure skating and Olympic sports as well as golf and tennis; whatever was asked of her. She flourished at writing business stories, too.
She attended many Little Brown Jugs in Ohio, all of the Triple Crown races in Louisville, Kentucky, Baltimore, Maryland and New York. She covered 10 Kentucky Derbys.
In 1981, she began her journey into covering figure skating and she has not looked back since then.
Smith describes herself as a workaholic, as she always wanted to be the one to break the big stories. Her main goal was to get the facts of the story correct. Over the years, she has gained the trust of the skating community around the world, and knows people from Russia, China, Europe and the United States.
The Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia proved to be her favourite assignment of all time. The Australians were organized, friendly and helpful, with a media village on the grounds of a former mental institution, one of the few times media were all together in one spot. She covered all sports, putting in 18-19 hour days and loved every minute of it.
In 2002, she broke the biggest story of her career: the figure skating judging scandal that involved two Canadian athletes, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who were awarded a silver medal behind a Russian team. Smith had already been writing about corruption in judging for at least five years, but when a French judge admitted she had been told to vote for the Russians in an exchange for a French team winning the ice dance competition, everybody knew about it. The Canadians’ medal was upgraded to gold after the media storm. The next day, Smith had two front-page stories in The Globe and Mail on the same day, and the Globe office fielded about 100 calls from media outlets wanting to talk to her – and all the time she was trying to advance the story and do her work. “It was wild,” she said. Sitting in the front row in a press conference room, she found a television camera pointed at her.
She received The Globe and Mail internal reporting award, over top investigative and bureau journalists at the paper. She treasures that award. One of her former bosses from The Globe and Mail, Steve McAllister, told me she should have won a National Newspaper Award for this story, but unfortunately she did not. Years before, she had been a National Newspaper Award finalist for a horse racing story.
Several years before the scandals of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, a publisher approached her to write a book about figure skating, because of the heightened interest in the sport after Tonya Harding’s close associates bludgeoned Nancy Kerrigan in the knee at a U.S. championship. Her first book, Figure Skating: A Celebration, was a huge success, selling in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. It became the research manual for all the major television networks: NBC, ABC, CBS, Turner, CBC and CTV.
Smith looked up to many journalists, Red Smith, Jay Hovdey, a California-based writer who once called her a “peerless reporter” in a story for the Daily Racing Form, and friends Cam Cole, who wrote for Postmedia, Dave Perkins, a Toronto Star columnist, and Rosie DiManno, also of The Star.
Smith’s good friend Christie Blatchford once wrote about her, “I’ve had the unsettling pleasure of covering several Olympics games with Bev as a teammate and as the enemy. Though she’s a fine colleague and a team player, I’m not sure in the end it mattered, so competitive is she. At all these games, she led the figure-skating coverage – internationally in most instances – from start to finish by an enormous margin, and in the case of the summer games, though we covered from opposite sides of the fence, in whatever sport she was assigned, and was a dogged, relentless foe.”
“Near as I could tell, she infrequently ate, and was still hard at work when most of the rest of us called it a night. Even by the long days that are normal at the Olympics, she put in frightening hours. She has an astonishing capacity for hard work. She’s the sort of reporter who scares the hell out of you, in other words.”
Smith has lived in Mississauga for many decades. After taking a buyout from The Globe and Mail in 2013, she started her own websites, bevsmithwrites.com, focused primarily on figure skating, and beyondthefinishline.net, a horse racing site for which she does her own photography. She has also revived her piano playing and intends to do the same with her art skills.
I consider myself a bit of a sports junkie. I read sports columns in the Toronto Sun, Star, and Globe and Mail. I did not realize I was at times reading a column from someone like Smith, who grew up in this area.
Smith is one of the top sports reporters in Canadian history. What a career, what a journey. She obviously has a strong passion for horse racing and figure skating, which are an important part of our Canadian way of life. A tip of the hat to John Farrell who told me about Smith – she is truly remarkable.