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Des Vamplew wins Commonwealth medals 36 years apart

By Terry Jones, Edmonton Sun

Des Vamplew missed  the opening ceremony at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. Thirty-six years later, he's still winning medals. (QMI Files)

Des Vamplew missed the opening ceremony at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. Thirty-six years later, he's still winning medals. (QMI Files)


It was 10 Commonwealth Games ago, 36 years ago.

Des Vamplew was just a 22-year-old kid who surprised everyone and won the gold medal in fullbore rifle shooting at the Edmonton 1978 Games

Thirty-six years later, at age 58, Vamplew just won another medal at the Commonwealth Games.

He’s likely the only person in history to win medals 36 years apart without winning any in between.

“That's probably a pretty good assumption,” he said.

“It was a large shock to my wife. When I phoned home, she answered the phone and asked how it went. It was like she was braced for news of a disappointing result. When I told her she said 'Oh my God! I'm going to open a bottle of champagne.’ And she did.”

How do you go 36 years between medals?

Vamplew, who is in the import-export business, dialed down his shooting career when his two sons were born.

“I didn't want to be a shooting bum. I wanted to be a normal dad and coach their minor hockey teams and everything.”

Now they're 22 and 19. And he's back at it, full bore, so to speak.

Vamplew, of Toronto, combined with Jim Paton of White Rock, B.C., to win a silver medal Saturday in the pairs event at the Barry Buddon Shooting Complex, two hours northeast of Glasgow, near the famed Carnoustie British Open golf course.

He's now competing in the three-day event in which he won his Edmonton gold.

Vamplew says he's already thinking of a possible Edmonton 2022.

“If it comes to be I'd be trying like crazy to make that team. And I can't think why not.”

And he swears a couple of his friends, John Nelson of Northern Ireland and David Calverly of Jamaica, who were the other young guys in his event at Edmonton 1978, will be there, too.

“We're not old farts. We're still young at heart.”

He says he has breakfast with Susan Nattrass, the Edmonton trapshooter and Canada's flagbearer, every morning. She's 63. Her event is Monday.

“I laugh now looking back at Edmonton in 1978,” Vamplew said. “My brother and I were so young. Most of the guys were 45, 50, 55. When we showed up they wondered where the Canadians were and who were these young guys. Now we're those guys.”

The No. 1 reason Vamplew would like Edmonton to win the 2022 bid is to walk in the opening ceremonies.

“I didn't get to do that in 1978. My dad was very seriously ill and we waited until the last minute to get to Edmonton. We put him in the hospital the day before we left. We were able to get back to say goodbye to him just before he died.”

Prince Phillip presented Vamplew his gold medal in Edmonton.

His 61-year-old brother, Pat, one of the two coaches here, shared the podium with him, having won the bronze medal.

“I guess Prince Phillip got there early and watched the end of the competition. Somebody told him about the Vamplew brothers and how we were shooting while our dad, who was a shooter himself, hung on to his life back home. When he presented us our medals Prince Phillip talked to us about that. Four years later my brother made it to the Commonwealth Games and won another bronze. Prince Phillip asked him about our father. To have a memory like that ...”

Vamplew would like to experience an Edmonton Commonwealth Games all over again just to make sure to suck it all in.

“In 1978 it was a blur. We were so young we didn't appreciate it.”

If he made it back 44 years after the fact, at age 66, that would be something to tell his grandchildren about.

By then he may have some.

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