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An Olympian Ran Here - An Athlete Story: Taking From Keith Davidson’S “Looking Back Series”

Keith Davidson

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SPRING 2002      v32 n02 p15  
On July 1, 1909, a new western Canadian record for the five mile road race had been set in Lloydminster. Competing for the Mayberry Cup, one Alex DeCosta of Edmonton had streaked over the course in the amazing time of 27 minutes, 45 and 1/5 seconds.

It was true. The record had been broken. The only mistake in the article was the spelling of the name of the new record holder.

The runner's name was really Alex Decoteau. He would go on to a brief but spectacular career as a middle and long distance runner.

Alex Decoteau

Alex was originally from the Red Pheasant Reserve near Battleford. Born in 1887, he attended the Battleford Indian Industrial School. A good student, he excelled in soccer and running. After finishing school, he moved to Edmonton to work for his brother-in-law, former Mountie David Latta, in his machine shop.

He continued to pursue his love of running. Competing as a member of the Irish-Canadian Athletic Club, he soon was winning every race he entered. The record he set in Lloydminster set the stage for his career as a runner.

Alex must have tired of the machine shop. He applied to join the City Police force in 1911 and became the first aboriginal to serve as one of Edmonton's finest.

He did well in police work. Alex was one of the first motorcycle policemen in the city and was promoted to desk sergeant of the South Side Police Station in 1914. He continued to compete under the colours of the Edmonton Police Association.

A Remarkable Record

From 1909 until 1916, Alex competed in every major and many minor running competitions in western Canada.

On Christmas Day in 1910, on a snow-covered course, he set a record in the Calgary Herald's Annual 6 1/3 mile race. The time was 34.19 and as far as one can tell, has never been beaten.

Alex Decoteau with Trophies. Police Museum and Archives. Photographer unknown. City of Edmonton Archives EA-159-4.
Alex Decoteau with Trophies.
Police Museum and Archives.
Photographer unknown.
City of Edmonton Archives EA-159-4.

The Calgary Herald's race was a terror of a run. The track was generally snow covered, the weather did not always cooperate and even vehicle traffic could be a problem. In 1915 one competitor was hit by a car and could not finish the race.

Alex gained a lot of fans in 1910 with his sportsmanship and deportment. His time may have been even better had he not been busy reminding auto drivers to get off the course and give the boys behind him a chance. As the reporter from the Herald said, "Decoteau was a clean sport and proved to be undoubtedly the best man in Alberta over that distance." He went on to win the Calgary race every time he entered. The organizers were so impressed with his performance that the cup was permanently presented to Alex in 1915. It would be his last win in Calgary.

An Olympian

The pinnacle of Alex's career came in 1912. Trying out for the Canadian Olympic team in Montreal in the 10,000 metre race, he was forced to withdraw with severe leg cramping. Undaunted, Alex decided to try the 5,000 metre competition.

He won easily but his time was not considered good enough for the Olympics. A runner named Chandler had just set a new Canadian 5,000 metre record. Chandler had won the 10,000 metre race and had not entered the 5,000 metre event.

Another race was set up with Chandler going against Alex. The two runners met and Alex set a new Canadian record. Both runners were soon off to Stockholm to represent Canada in the Olympic Games.

As Alberta's only athlete in the 1912 games, Alex met both success and failure. In the first heat, Alex placed second. He was assured a place in the final.

In the final, the early going looked good for Alex. At the end of the fourth lap, he was running in third place. Unfortunately for Alex, when the race was over, he did not finish in the top three.

It really mattered little. Alex was still awarded an Olympic Merit Diploma and a medal for his performance. In his red Canadian sweater with the Maple Leaf inset on the right breast, Alex arrived back in Edmonton to a crowd of well wishers. His comment to the journal was that, "I expect to get back to work tomorrow and will keep in training as I would like to compete at the Dominion meet in Montreal next month and also the two local meets."

For the next four years, he won almost every race he competed in.

In 1916, Alex joined the Canadian Army. He was killed in France in 1917.

We Haven't Forgotten

Alex certainly earned his place in Canadian Sports History. His memory lives on. He was elected to the Edmonton City Police Hall of Fame and many of his medals, cups and photos are on display there. He has also been inducted to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and just recently was also an inductee into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame as well.

Just as important to Alex's memory was a ceremony that was held on Red Pheasant Reserve in August of 1985. Alex's spirit was guided home by a burial song from the reserve's singers and drummers and with

(continued on page 17)


AN OLYMPIAN RAN HERE - AN ATHLETE STORY

Keith Davidson

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SPRING 2001     p17  
"Amazing Grace" from an Edmonton police piper. It was a good thing.

We haven't forgotten Alex. He was a true hero, a world-class athlete and from all accounts, a first-class person. We can all relate to and learn from someone like Alex.

Article Sources:

1. Alex Decoteau Clipping File courtesy of the Edmonton City Archives.

2. The Lloydminster Times, July 18, 1909.

A BRIEF AUTHOR BIO:

University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina graduate; retired elementary school principal.

Freelance photojournalist with over 130 historical articles published.

Interested in the people and stories from our past that really didn't make it into the history texts that are used in our schools.  Always interested in humorous stories and photos from our past that relate to events that most people would not be familiar with.