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Canada felled by Russian woodchopper during 1964 Olympics

After missing the 1960 summer games. Canada’s senior men’s basketball team qualified for the 1964 Olympics but struggled to keep with the competition, finishing 14th out of 16 teams.

Canada felled by janis krumins russian woodchopper during 1964 olympics
Canada felled by janis krumins russian woodchopper during 1964 olympics - Photo: Curtis J. Phillips

“I remember they called him the Russian woodchopper, but he had to be at least 7-foot-6 and 350 pounds…a huge man… and I had to cover him,” recalled Canadian Walter Birtles, who at 6-foot-6 and 198 pounds had to cover Jānis Krūmiņš who was listed at 7-foot-2 and 315 pounds.

Such was the David vs. Goliath scenario for Canada in men’s basketball at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

First, was the fact that they had gone to the Pre-Olympic Trials, also in Japan, on their own nickel.

Why?

Since Canada had failed to qualify for the 1960 Rome Olympics men’s basketball, there would be no financial support for these 64’ Pre-Olympic Trials from the Canadian Olympic Committee or Canadian Amateur Basketball Association.

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Only after the withdrawal of United Arab Republic (FIBA Africa Championship 1964 winners) and Czechoslovakia (5th placers at the 1960 Olympics) from the 1964 Pre-Olympic Trials…two qualifying berths were added to the qualification tournament.

Thus, Canada and South Korea qualified to dribble into The National Gymnasium Annex in Yoyogi, Japan for the Olympics.

The Canadian rep, made up of the Canadian Senior A Men’s Basketball National Champion’s Toronto Dow Kings bolstered by four players, did not have much of a chance.

Situated in Group A, Canada’s first game was against the powerhouse Soviet Union.

October 11, 1964 (0-1)

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USSR 87 – Canada 52

More than 3,000 fans turned up to watch, not only an Olympic basketball game, but to “gawk and stare” at Russian centre Jānis Krūmiņš.

“I remember they called him the Russian Woodchopper, but he had to be at least 7-foot-6 and 350 pounds…a huge man… and I had to cover him,” recalled Canadian Walter Birtles, who at 6-foot-6 and 198 pounds had to cover Krūmiņš, who was listed at 7-foot-2 and 315 pounds. “They would try to post him inside and then just lob the ball in to him for an easy basket. But I would make sure I beat him back before he came down and held him with all my strength.”

Canada basketball 1964 olympics keith hartley drives past russia
Olympian Keith Hartley drives past Russia at the 1964 olympics in Tokyo, Japan – Photo: Curtis J. Phillips

Birtles held Krūmiņš, who already had two Olympic silver medals (1956, 1960) hanging from his trophy case, to eight points!

Russian centre 7-foot-2 centre, Alexei Petrov, scored all of his 11 points in the opening quarter, giving the Russians a comfortable lead with the majority of the starters taking the bench for the rest of the match.

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John McKibbon led Canada with a game high 25 points.

Oct 12, 1964 (0-2)

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Hungary 70 – Canada 59

Attendance: 2,961

Down 34-30 at the half, Hungary outscored Canada 36-29 in the second half.

McKibbon once again led the way for Canada with 16 points. 

Janos Racz, 6-foot-1, had 17 for Hungary.

Japan 58 – Canada 37

Oct 13, 1964 (0-3)

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Attendance: 2,977

Japan led 25-16 at the half and was up as much as 21 points in the second half.

Winnipeg’s Fred Ingaldson had 16 points in the loss. Japan was sparked by Yoshitaka Egawa’s 18 points

Oct 14, 1964 (0-4)

Italy 66 – Canada 54

Attendance: 2,922

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Canada led 28-26 at the half, but Italy scored three straight hoops to start the second and stay out front.

Warren Reynolds was top gunner for Canada with 14 points.

Reynolds had played for Canada in the 1959 Pan Am Games in Chicago and the pre-Olympic tournament in Italy four years prior.

Gabriel Vittore also had 14 for Italy.

Oct 16, 1964 (0-5)

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Mexico 78 – Canada 68

Attendance: 2,982

Canada couldn’t buy a basket…down 47-18 at the half to the much smaller Mexicans.

Alberto Almanza sparked Mexico with 24. Rafael Heredia added 20.

 McKibbon 22 and Reynolds 21 in defeat.

Oct 17, 1964 (0-6)

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Puerto Rico 88 – Canada 69

Attendance: 3,012

McKibbon and Rolly Goldring had 18 and 13 respectively for the Canucks.

Teo Cruz had 20 in the win.

Oct 18, 1964 (0-7)

Poland 74 – Canada 69

Attendance: 3,089

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McKibbon had a game high 22 points in the loss, where Canada had led 42-34 at the half.

Bohdan Likszo was tops for Poland with 23. Likszo was the top scorer at the 1967 FIBA World Championship. He won the silver medal at the 1963 EuroBasket, and bronze medals at EuroBasket 1965, and EuroBasket 1967.

Octo 20, 1964 Consolation Semi Finals (1-7)

Canada 82 – Peru 81

Attendance: 3,086 Seven straight loses and quickly falling out of medal contention…heading into the classification round, the thought in the dressing room was, “We’re not going home without a victory,” said Warren Reynolds

With three seconds remaining in regulation, Warren Reynolds ties the game at 73-73 to send it to overtime. Peru had taken the lead on a pair of free throws by Jose Guzman with 15 seconds on the clock.

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Warren reynolds game winning shot gives canada 82 81 win over peru at 1964 olympic basketball games
Warren Reynolds game-winning shot gives Canada 82-81 win over Peru at 1964 Olympic basketball games – Photo: Curtis J. Phillips

“We went flying down the floor,” recalled Reynolds, “I hit the top of the key, which is where I like to be.” Teammate Barry Howson fed him the ball. “I turned and shot without even looking. The buzzer went off, and the ball went in.”

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Reynolds had 25 points in support of McKibbon’s 27.

Ricardo Duarte, the top scorer in these Olympic Games, (23.3 ppg) had 29. He was named one of FIBA’s 50 greatest players, in 1991.

Oct 22, 1964 13th, 14th place (1-8)

Hungary 68 – Canada 65

Attendance: 3,061

McKibbon, who would be the third top scorer at these Olympics, was held to three points. Birtles picked up the slack with 15.

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Hungary’s Gabanyi had 22.

Canada would finish 14th in the 16 team tournament, ahead of Peru and South Korea.

Of their 1964 performance, McKibbon said in an interview: “Most of the countries did not outshine us. United States and Russia are out of reach in the immediate future. But there is no reason at all why we can’t match the other countries.”

“We found out early that we had to stay with out best. Basically, we only used seven or eight players. We were ahead in most of our game at the half. Then we folded completely in the second half.”

In seven games, Canada were outscored 521-408, a margin of 113.

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The following players represented Canada. Included are their home clubs and 1964 Olympic points per game average.

No. 4 Ruby Richman 3.6 ppg Toronto Dow Kings (Player/Coach)

No. 5 Joseph Stulac 0.0 ppg Toronto Dow Kings

No. 6 Barry Howson 10.0 ppg Toronto Dow Kings

No. 7 James Maguire 0.6 ppg Toronto Dow Kings

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No. 8 Keith Hartley 4.0 ppg Toronto Dow Kings

No. 9 Warren Reynolds 11.4 ppg Toronto Dow Kings

No. 10 Walter Birtles 5.6 ppg

No. 11 Rolly Goldring 5.5 ppg Toronto Dow Kings

No. 12 Fred Ingaldson 5.8 ppg Winnipeg Institute Prosvita Athletic Club Buffaloes

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No. 13 John McKibbon 16.9 ppg Montreal Yvon Coutu Huskies:

No. 14 John Dacyshyn Toronto Dow Kings (returned to Canada due to death of mother)

No. 15 George Stulac 3.8 ppg Toronto Dow Kings

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