Standing in the middle of Vancouver’s vast BC Place Stadium at the Closing Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Games, with the Olympic torch in her hand and only the clown Yves Dagenais for company, the former Canadian speed skater Catriona Le May Doan approached the huge Olympic cauldron towering above her. Slowly one of its four arms descended. With the eyes of the world on her, she lowered the torch and lit the cauldron, drawing rapturous applause from the thousands of spectators packed into the stadium.
At the Opening Ceremony two weeks earlier she had stood in the same place, alongside three other Canadian sporting legends: ice hockey’s Wayne Gretzky, the basketball player Steve Nash and skiing’s Nancy Greene. It was their task to light the four arms of the cauldron simultaneously, but unfortunately for Le May Doan, the arm she was meant to light refused to move, hence the need for her to have a second bite of the cherry when the Vancouver Games came to an end.
That malfunction took nothing away from Le May Doan’s enjoyment of the occasion, however, or of the other three opening ceremonies in which she took part during her illustrious career. “I went to four Olympics and they were all different experiences,” she explains.
“Many people would think that winning the medals and being on top of the podium was the biggest high. And it was great. And yet at all four Olympics I was fortunate to do all four opening ceremo-nies, and to me one of the biggest thrills is being in that stadium and hearing the Athlete Oath, hearing them announce the Games being opened and seeing the flame come in, because to me it reaffirms what the Olympic Games are about and why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
In gracing the ice between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, Le May Doan put together a fantastic career record, winning 11 world championship medals, including five golds. Three of those golds came in the 500m, a distance in which she broke her own world record 14 times, after becoming the first female speed skater to dip under 38 seconds in 1997.
Now married and the mother of two children, Le May Doan was the first Canadian athlete to retain an Olympic Winter Games title, winning back-to-back golds over her favoured 500m at Nagano 1998 – where she also won bronze in the 1,000m – and at Salt Lake City 2002.
“What was interesting about winning the first gold medal was that it was a two-part race,” explains Le May Doan, who is now married with two children. “It was 24 hours after the first race and they both count towards the gold medal. And my team-mate who I was racing against (Susan Auch) was only 0.03 behind me. So that put more pressure on me because I knew she wanted it just as badly as I did.
“I hardly remember the race… but I do remember the last few metres, knowing that I was going to win,” she adds. “And I remember crossing the line to see my name come up on the scoreboard. When I did it was almost a sense of relief, but it was also excitement and it was joy. The fact that as a team we had accomplished a lot at those Games was pretty spectacular.”