The winner of three golds and five medals in all at three Games, short track speed-skater Marc Gagnon is Canada’s most decorated male Olympian of all time and stayed at the top of his sport for a whole decade.
Born in Chicoutimi in the region of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean in Quebec, Marc Gagnon first donned speed skates at the age of three, following the path taken by his older brother and role model Sylvain. Two years later he moved on to short-track skating and became one of the best young speed skaters in the country. Despite being diagnosed with a defect in his knee joints, Marc refused to give up the sport he loved and trained twice as hard to overcome the pain, inspired by the philosophy of his first coach Justin Rochefort, who said to him, “Act, don’t react”.
Gagnon was only 17 when he competed alongside his brother at his first world championships in Beijing in 1993. The siblings went into the final race of the 3,000m topping the rankings, with Marc passing Sylvain in the decisive encounter to pip him to the gold, an achievement that prompted the winner to say: “It’s one of the greatest moments of my life”. It was the first of many triumphs for the younger Gagnon. In the years up to 2001 he would win 11 individual world championship golds and top the overall classification four times between 1993 and 1998, while also claiming seven team titles, 11 silvers and five bronzes.
More at ease at distances of 1,000m and over, Gagnon had to be content with a solitary bronze at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Winter Games, an unexpectedly low return that prompted him to team up with Sylvie Daigle, a double Olympic and five-time world champion who had gone on to become a coach. At Nagano in 1998 the kid from Chicoutimi led Canada to victory in the 5,000m team relay, only to fall in the 5,000m individual final and suffer elimination in the quarter-finals of the 1,000m event. Still without an individual Olympic title, he put his career on hold and took a job as a computer engineer in Quebec.
Quickly regaining his appetite for competition, Gagnon returned to training with the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City as his objective. His hard work finally paid off in the 500m final, when he outpaced the USA’s Rusty Smith and fellow Canadian Jonathan Guilmette to win the individual Olympic title he had been yearning for. Though he finished fourth in the 1,500m he was eventually awarded the bronze after South Korea’s Kim Dong-Sun was disqualified. Gagnon then made it a hat-trick of medals at Salt Lake when he partnered Jonathan Guilmette, François-Louis Tremblay and Mathieu Turcotte to victory in the 5,000m relay.
His Olympic goals fulfilled, the Canadian then retired at the age of 27. “I’ve chased after my sporting goals and I have attained them,” he said in September 2002, having become Canada’s most successful male Olympian. “It’s time now for me pursue my other dreams.”
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