Sunday, February 15, 1998
Canada's finest hour
Catriona LeMay Doan waved the Canadian flag and the Saskatchewan flag as the national anthem played, she flashed a bright wide smile of big teeth, a great weight lifted from her athletic shoulders.
Finally, this wasn't about talk anymore. There was an Olympic gold medal around her neck, her first gold medal from speed skating and not her last.
And she celebrated with raw unrehearsed emotion. First, her fists were pumping. Then her arms were raised. Then she took a lap with the Canadian flag, and a lap with her coach Derrick Auch and his sister, silver medallist Susan Auch. And then she skated with the Japanese bronze medallist, and then her husband gave her a cowboy hat to put on, and she kept on skating and skating, the longest 500-metre celebration in history.
SILVER AND GOLD
LeMay Doan had won gold, Susan Auch had won silver. This had never happened before to Canadians in the same event.
And that was the beginning. The beginning of the greatest day in Canadian Olympic history.
LeMay Doan won gold and Auch won silver at speed skating. Both the men's and women's curling rinks advanced to the gold-medal games. Pierre Lueders and his two-man bobsled team went into today's final firmly in second place. Canada beat Sweden 3-2 in men's hockey. In all, a day of five medals, the color of two still to be determined.
And then there was the story of Elvis Stojko, the gritty silver medallist who never had a chance.
You could see from his face there was something wrong before the program even began.
There was no smile from Stojko to the crowd, only a deep breath while you held yours. He skated last on a night when order didn't matter.
Of those in contention, Ilia Kulik skated first and skated best. "I saw Ilia do quad (jump), triple (jump), triple (jump), I said he won,'' said Philippe Candeloro, the bronze medallist. "I'm sorry for Elvis, but that's life.''
Stojko winced before he began and collapsed on to the skaters' bench when his long program ended. It was four minutes and 40 seconds of pure guts. "We didn't have anything left,'' coach Doug Leigh said of Stojko. "We almost made it through.''
And at the bottom of the stairs of the White Ring figure skating venue, while a distracted Leigh made sure Stojko was getting medical attention, he was asked about the medal his skater had won.
He thought it was bronze. He was prepared for that. Even after the medal presentation, Leigh hadn't realized that Stojko had won a silver medal.
There was a poster on a Saskatoon bulletin board asking for speed skaters to sign up. Ailsa LeMay saw the poster and told her sister. The year was 1980. At the age of 10, a gold medallist was born.
Catriona LeMay Doan began skating on an outdoor oval in urban Saskatchewan. "It made us tough,'' she said. "Coming from the Prairies, we learned to skate in minus-40 degrees with winds blowing. I guess after that, nothing fazes you.''
But on the first day of her first race of the Nagano Olympics, she was bothered. LeMay Doan let nerves get the best of her. She was distracted. "I wasn't happy with myself,'' she said.
By the second race, there were no nerves, only energy. It was one race to determine everything. LeMay Doan in the outside lane. Her teammate, Susan Auch, on the inside lane. "I knew what I had to do,'' she said.
She thought of her husband, Bart, with whom she had prayed in the morning. She thought of her mom, in the stands, watching this time, instead of covering her eyes. Then she stopped thinking and she skated.
"This feels great,'' LeMay Doan said afterward. "I don't know if the reality has set in yet ... I have two more races to go. If I can come out with three gold medals, that would be great.''
Susan Auch stood on the same podium level in a different country, a different Olympics, with a different anthem playing. The previous time she won silver, it was the U.S. anthem playing for Bonnie Blair. This time, it was her own.
She looked up, saw the Canadian flag being raised, and smiled a crooked smile -- happy, emotional, introspective.
CLEARED THE AIR
"Hearing the anthem this time, it was more touching,'' Auch said of her second Olympic silver medal. "Watching the flag going up, I was really choked up. That was a nice feeling.''
Susan Auch used to be the star of the Canadian speed skating team. But she is 31 now, in her last of four Olympic Games, coming off knee surgery, and still somehow getting it done.
This whole season has been one long test. First with therapy and recovery. Then confidence. Then the reality of knowing this was no longer her team.
"In June, we sat down (whole team) with our psychologist and we put everything on the table,'' Auch said. She was talking about her relationship with LeMay Doan. They weren't exactly friends. They were skating rivals. Suddenly, they were training together and coached by Derrick Auch, Susan's brother. Something had to give.
"We needed to talk about everything. What could arise, negative things, positive things, things we needed to deal with. We cleared the air ... There hasn't been any tension this year.''
On Saturday, Susan Auch, with knees still sore, skated the fastest 100 metres in women's speed skating history. The race, unfortunately, is 500 metres. "I thought maybe I had a chance to win. But If I couldn't win the race, I wouldn't want anyone else but her to win it.''
Canadians finished 1-2 in speed skating, second in figure skating, and off to the gold-medal games in both curling draws. There has never been an Olympic day like this before, winter or summer: three medals won, two more clinched.
"A part of history,'' said Catriona LeMay Doan, the 27-year-old champion, again flashing her soon- to-be-famous smile. "This feels great.''