Catriona Le May Doan felt the power of the Olympic spirit years after gold medals

Catriona Le May Doan felt the power of the Olympic spirit years after gold medals


‘This was the actual Olympic flame, lit by the power of the sun in Olympia, Greece’

Catriona Le May Doan for CBC Sports
Speed skating legend Catriona Le May Doan, right, seen here celebrating with Canadian teammate Susan Auch, won two Olympic gold medals during her stellar career. (Reuters) Speed skating legend Catriona Le May Doan, right, seen here celebrating with Canadian teammate Susan Auch, won two Olympic gold medals during her stellar career. (Reuters)

I won both my Olympic gold medals on Valentine’s Day at the 1998 and 2002 Winter Games.

Those were special days for me and my husband, Bart, and, of course, the media loved the story, too!

But strange as it sounds, those victories don’t define the Olympic spirit for me. It was at the start of the torch relay for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when I was no longer competing, that I experienced my most powerful Olympic moment.

As a young girl, my ultimate dream was to stand on top of the podium at the Olympic Games. I imagined myself singing the national anthem, with tears streaming down my face.

Well, I did it. Twice.

I am one of the fortunate ones who have been able to sing the Canadian anthem while at the top of the podium, with a gold medal around my neck.

Those moments were wonderful. They made me proud. They made me appreciate my family, my team, and all the people who helped me get there.

 
From right to left, Doan, Simon Whitfield, Silken Laumann and Alexandre Despatie during the beginning of the Olympic Torch Relay in Victoria, B.C. on Oct. 30, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press) From right to left, Doan, Simon Whitfield, Silken Laumann and Alexandre Despatie during the beginning of the Olympic Torch Relay in Victoria, B.C. on Oct. 30, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

True Olympic moment

However, if you ask me when I truly understood the power of the Olympic moment, it was actually on Oct. 30, 2009, in Vancouver.

I was asked to be one of the first torch-bearers for the Vancouver 2010 torch relay. I didn’t have any details. I even had some media friends asking me who I thought would be the first torch bearer – my hesitant answer was, “Well, I think I might be one of them.”

I flew in to Victoria early that morning and was walking on the tarmac when the plane carrying the Olympic flame landed. I paused and looked, and felt a twinge of excitement about the events that were ahead. But I still had no idea the impact this day would have on me.

I met the three other torch-bearers who would be a part of this first leg: triathlete Simon Whitfield, Silken Laumann the rower, and diver Alexandre Despatie. They were already in their white track suits and I quickly got changed and got the “low down.” Simon and I would be the first ones; we would walk on stage carrying the torch, we would light it from the cauldron and begin the relay.

We spent the next half hour catching up. Many people think that athletes who represent Canada at the Olympics all hang out together. We were a mix of winter and summer athletes – all Olympic medallists, but most of us had met for the first time post-competition, and only saw each other at an event perhaps once a year, if that.

When the ceremony began Simon and I were escorted backstage. We were holding one torch together. As the prime minister was speaking, Simon turned to me and said, “I’m nervous.” It was then that I realized I was nervous, too.

We didn’t know what to expect. That might seem normal to many, but as athletes, especially individual sport athletes, we never let ourselves not be prepared for what’s ahead. For two decades, I had been disciplined, trained, and prepared for every performance and competition.

 
Simon, left, turned to Doan and said, “let’s jog.” This is the moment it all changed for Doan. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) Simon, left, turned to Doan and said, “let’s jog.” This is the moment it all changed for Doan. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

106-day journey

That didn’t mean that surprises didn’t arise, but where my execution and ability was involved, I was prepared and knew what to do. This was different. Neither of us knew what to expect.

We were called on stage; we walked to the cauldron and lit the very first torch, which would begin the 106-day journey.

This journey would end at the opening ceremony on Feb. 12th, 2010. With torch lit, we walked down the stairs of the stage and onto the path through one of the thickest crowds I have ever seen.

A few seconds in, Simon turned to me and said, “Let’s jog.” This is the moment it all changed…it felt real. This was the actual Olympic flame, lit by the power of the sun in Olympia, Greece.

This flame had inspired me for so many years. This flame that represents positive values was going to cross our entire nation and inspire so many. Then I looked at the faces in the crowd: people of all ages, all backgrounds. Some were cheering, some were crying, others smiling, but all of them looking at the Flame with hope.

I saw my kids in each one of those faces. The flame signified that anything was possible. We didn’t run for long. We did the first hand-off and Silken and Alexandre were on their way.

 
Seeing son Easton, left, and daughter Greta after a flight back to Calgary brought Doan to tears. (Photo courtesy Finn Wolfe Photo Divisions) Seeing son Easton, left, and daughter Greta after a flight back to Calgary brought Doan to tears. (Photo courtesy Finn Wolfe Photo Divisions)

Tears of joy

Simon and I went to do an interview with Brian Williams. I was so emotional, yet I never allowed myself to be emotional on air. Brian knew something was up and kept asking me how I was, and why I was giving such short answers.  I stayed “tough” and kept it together.

I headed to the airport and was on a flight back to Calgary that afternoon. I walked into my house; my kids were on the couch and as soon as they saw me they said, “Mummy, we saw you with fire!”

I broke into tears. I was an emotional mess for the next 24 hours, crying constantly and unable to hold it together.

I know now the reason I found that day so emotional is because I was finally able to really feel the Olympic spirit and the power of the Olympic flame.

Even during four Olympic Games as an athlete, I was at “work.” During those four Games, I was inspired but still focused on the goal at hand. I knew the power of the Games was not just about me and my performance, but about every single Canadian and the dream that anything is possible.

On Feb. 14, I will smile at the memories of a couple of great races, hug and kiss my loved ones, but the Olympic moment that truly melts my heart will always be one from a cloudy morning in Victoria.

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