Former winter Olympians recall time in spotlight

They're your personal trainer, your realtor, your co-worker in the next cubicle. And they're also Olympians. CBC caught up with some winter Olympians from the Ottawa area to discuss their fondest memories and their lives after the Olympic Games.

Years pass but the memories never fade for local athletes

Luger Chris Wightman represented Canada at the Calgary Olympics in 1988. (Chris Wightman)

They're your personal trainer, your realtor, your co-worker in the next cubicle at a government office.

They're also Olympians. And every four years when the Olympics return, they recall their time in the Olympic village, on the race course and in some cases, on the podium.

We caught up with some winter Olympians from the Ottawa area to discuss their lives since the Olympics, along with their fondest memories and their connection to the events that shaped their lives.

Horst Bulau; Ski jumping, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 
Horst Bulau, despite 13 World Cup victories in ski jumping, never won an Olympic medal. (Canadian Olympic Committee)

How tough was it for you to accept that you never won an Olympic medal despite 13 World Cup victories and dozens of World Cup podium finishes?

It was hard not to podium at at least one of the Olympics. I was a favourite to be on the podium in 1984. When 1988 came around in Calgary there was a lot of pressure, in your own country and all that, you hope to podium there too. Those two Olympic Games there was a lot of pressure. It was tough to deal with. And sometimes there are just circumstances that, unfortunately, you can't deal with, and things happen for a reason and that's the way it is. So, I'm certainly very much satisfied and grateful and lucky in my career. The cherry on the cake would have been winning a medal, and winning the gold medal of course is the ultimate. But I'm very happy with my results. 

Describe the feeling you get when you see Olympic events on TV now.

It's exciting. You get goose bumps from time to time. Memories start clicking in. You know, it's a long time ago, but on the other hand, time blows by so fast it doesn't feel like it was that long ago. 

What advice do you have for current Olympians in terms of getting the most out of the experience? 

When you're in an individual sport you don't have your teammates to rely on. It's all up to you. Sometimes it's tough to stay focused on what you're doing. You have to dig deep and stay focused and try not to get distracted with all the excitement. It's not just the Olympic stage, it's seeing all the other competitors, and that many countries, and just all the hype around it, and all the activities around it. Sometimes you get lost in all of that and it can take you away from all the concentration and what you're there to do.  
Ottawa's 16-year-old ski jumping champion talks about his love of the sport in this 1980 CBC-TV report. 4:00

Glenroy Gilbert; Bobsleigh, 1994 (Summer Olympics 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000) 
Five-time Olympian Glenroy Gilbert was a member of the Canadian bobsleigh team at the the 1994 games in Lillehammer. (Athletics Canada)

Decribe your fondest Olympic memory. 

My fondest winter moment would be the opening ceremonies of the games in Lillehammer because I had been to two summer games by this point, and experiencing the contrast of the two games was a special moment for me.

Describe the feeling you get when you see Olympic events on TV now.

I get a sense of excitement, nervousness, anticipation and wonder for the athletes and coaches in that moment. There is so much going on that if you have never experienced it, it is difficult to fully grasp. It's the moment that you have trained for, dreamed of, and it is finally here. Now it's time to show the world why you belong on the podium instead of the next person. It's time to execute what you have practiced for years. This is your moment so make it count. Lots of pressure and execution in the moment is what you are trying to master.

How have you remained connected with your events now that you're no longer competing? 

I still do a little bit of coaching in track and field. As well, I work with our relay program at Athletics Canada, so I am still in the thick of things, but now, I can see it through the eyes of the athletes and coaches striving for what we accomplished years ago. I also, through my coaching, get a chance to impart my experiences and knowledge to the younger athletes to help them navigate the pitfalls if at all possible. I had many great teachers, coaches and friends that helped me when I was younger so for me, this is just paying that forward. It's truly the best part of what I do.

What advice do you have for current Olympians in terms of getting the most out of the experience? 

Live in the moment, foster the many great relationships you will build over these two weeks. Empty the tank and leave it all out there regardless of the event. Walk away knowing without a doubt you gave it everything you had in the moment. Athletes will know and understand this notion. And above all else, be proud of your accomplishment and efforts and take pride in being an Olympian.

Julie Klotz; alpine skiing, 1988 
Julie Klotz, a former Olympian and World Cup ski racer, and her 16-year-old daughter, Sierra Smith, spoke with CBC Ottawa's Alan Neal about the Nor-Am Cup Finals. (Alan Neal/CBC)

Describe your fondest memory as an Olympian.

After being Canadian champion in 1987, I had back surgery that spring and was coming off injury status for the 1988 season. I ended up going to the Olympics as a forerunner* for the Slalom. I can tell you that being on a national team is an absolute honour, to represent Canada and wear the Canadian flag is a privilege and a huge source of pride. Karen Percy won two bronze medals in Calgary and it was emotional to be at the awards ceremonies. The crowds were amazing and so supportive. For me they didn't seem to differentiate that I was only forerunning.

How does it feel to watch the Games now?

It is hard now to watch the Olympics or World Cup races without getting emotional. I know the time and energy and commitment they have put into it. I get teary watching the awards. The TV ads also pull at your heart.

Have you stayed involved in your sport? 

I now have a daughter in her first year on the Canadian team. Very special memories come up as I watch her push for her dreams and aim for her goals. The next Olympics are in her sights. I have never missed a year involved in ski racing since the day I stopped racing. Most weekends in the winter you can find me helping out at a race. I am very involved in the Club Mont Ste Marie ski racing program. I am an FIS international technical delegate and will be officiating the North American championship next week in Lake Placid. The sport gave me so much and taught me so much. I can't stay away from it and I always want to give back.

What advice do you have for Olympians today?

You made it here. Believe in yourself and enjoy the experience.  

Chris Wightman; Luge​, 1988 
Sylvain Mino (left) and Chris Wightman watch the lessons happening at one of the Edelweiss ski resort's tubing hills, which they rented for the day. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Describe your fondest Olympic memory.

My fondest memory or certainly the one I will never forget would have to be my first run at the 1988 games in Calgary. I'll never forget that first morning as we were at the top of the track looking down as busload after busload of spectators were coming into the venue. It was absolutely incredible. Of course we all have routines and have your tricks to getting into the zone and I followed that religiously that morning leading up to race time. I was feeling really good as I did my final preparation and went up to take my first run. So there I was in the start area, sitting at the start handles, and then over the PA announcement came 'Next on the track Chris Wightman ... Canada.' And this is where the routine broke down because all of a sudden this deafening roar from the crowd grew and grew as it funnelled its way up the track through each curve to start ramp and hit me square in the face. 20,000 people, mainly Canadians, screaming and cheering as loud as they could for me ... It was the worst run I'd had in years on the track. Each run after that was better but it's something I would never give up and is my fondest memory for sure. 

Describe the feeling you get when you see Olympic events on TV now.

Sitting back and just watching the Olympics as a pure spectator and Canadian fan is actually something new for me. The Sochi games in 2014 was the first time I got to do it because I had been working with the TV broadcasters mainly as on-camera analyst for the last five Olympics before that. It's great to see the insight from the new broadcasters and it's also great just watching other sports that I never got a chance to before because we're so busy during production.  

How have you remained connected with your events now that you're no longer competing? 

Since I stopped working on the TV side of the sport, I have been on the board of directors with Luge Canada for the last eight years as we've worked relentlessly to build up a world-class program and hopefully add to Canada's medal count with some podium finishes this year. I am also trying to get luge up and going again in eastern Canada ... Last year we ran two successful Learn to Luge camps for kids at Edelweiss ski hill and we hope to announce a mini March Break camp this year in a few days from now.

What advice do you have for current Olympians in terms of getting the most out of the experience?

Enjoy every minute of it. But be distracted when it's time to be distracted, and be focused when it's time to be focused. I think that's the hardest thing to do in your first Olympics because it's so completely overwhelming. The week leading up to it is full of anticipation. The opening ceremonies are beyond the spectacle that you see on TV. You're wandering through the athletes' village seeing world renowned superstars everywhere.  And chances are you'll end up having breakfast or lunch with a couple of them also. You're meeting all kinds of new and interesting people and there's events to go to every minute of every day if you want to.

*A forerunner is a non-competing skier who skis the course before the start of the event