Catriona Le May Doan has multiple reasons for her unbridled joy and excitement for the Canada Games.
She has participated three times as an athlete. She was a 12-year-old from Saskatoon when she skated in the 400 metres and 800 metres and won a bronze medal in the 3,000-metre relay in the 1983 Winter Games at Saguenay, Que. She was 16 when she won silver in the in the 400 metres and bronze in the 800 metres at the 1987 Winter Games in Nova Scotia. For a change of pace, she represented Saskatchewan in three track and field events at the 1993 Summer Games in Kamloops.
Le May Doan went on to participate in four Olympic Games — Albertville, France, in 1992, Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994, Nagano, Japan, in 1998, where she won a gold and bronze, and Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002 where she won gold again. That was a time when she was labelled the fastest women in the world. After retiring from skating, she entered broadcasting as an analyst for a handful of Canadian Games.
In 2009, she was named to the Canada Games Council. She is the vice-chair of the council, the governing body of a multi-sport and cultural event which selects the sites of the Games and brings together athletes, usually 22 and younger, promoting national development and spirit.
“There isn’t another country which has a format which helps in the development of sport, encourages athletes to become better and what we have at Games times are the very best of young people competing at a high level,” said Le May Doan on the telephone from Calgary.
“It is a nation-building event. For a lot of athletes, it is an important step towards working their way to the Olympic Games. For those who don’t get to the Olympics, the Canada Games remain a treasured moment they’ll never forget.”
Fresh from two weeks at the Winter Games at Red Deer, Le May Doan said, “I get more impressed each time I attend a new set of Games. It is a showcase for the Paralympic athletes, the Special Olympians, the able-bodied athletes. It is a journey, sometimes with little setbacks, but usually rewarding at the end.”
She’s told the story many times before.
“Kids have dreams and many people think their dreams are crazy. When I was a little girl growing up in Saskatoon, I wanted to go to the Olympic Games and win a gold medal. It happened. Now, I can say to the kids they shouldn’t give up on their dreams. We can never realize our dreams without the passion.
“When I went to those first Games in Quebec, I went with enthusiasm, energy and expectations. At 12, I might have been the youngest one there, competing against skaters who were six, eight and 10 years older.
“It was an important step towards the bigger picture. The Olympics are one thing. The Canada Games are another. In a way, the Canada Games are more intimate because you are surrounded by family and friends. Going to the Canada Games was one of the best experiences of my life.”
She still has the three Saskatchewan uniforms she wore at the Canada Games.
There were 3,600 athletes involved in the games at Red Deer and the Alberta community responded with 4,600 volunteers.
“The Games provided the perfect combinations — the high standards in facilities, accommodations and service at Red Deer as well as all of the good examples set by the coaches in Canada,” said Le May Doan.
Quebec won the championship with 146 medals, Ontario was second with 105 and Alberta was third with 100, including 36 gold.
Saskatchewan was in sixth place with 17 medals. Among them were golds achieved by Regina’s Logan Pletz in biathlon men’s 12.5-kilometre event, Saskatoon’s Ashley Anaka and Regina’s Hannah Metheral as a pair in women’s synchro trampoline and Estevan’s Hunter Chipley in the men’s archery recurve.
The team also picked up three silvers and 11 bronzes. The men’s hockey team was competitive, losing in the semifinals to Quebec, and the speed skating long track team finished fourth, skating to within one second of the previous Canadian record.
Le May Doan sees positives on all sides.
“The medal count for Saskatchewan wasn’t high, but I was really impressed that their team was made up of athletes from 58 communities. That’s a healthy sign. Yes, the Canada Games is a report on where each province stands against all of its rivals and then it is up to each province to find better ways.
“Trying to measure up against Alberta was challenging this year because Alberta was the host province, it turned in a record-breaking total and host provinces tend to rise to that challenge.”
Another happy step was that Nunavut entered a hockey team for the first time.
The other positive Le May Doan took away was the connection to International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8.
“A study showed that 94 per cent of all women in executive roles have backgrounds in sports. Being in sports teaches the great characteristic of leadership.”
In addition to her Canada Games Council role, Le May Doan maintains her management position with Sport Calgary, serves on the Canadian board of Special Olympics, and watches her two children compete in sport. Her son, Easton, plays hockey and baseball; daughter Greta is in ringette, field hockey and wrestling.
The Canada Games were launched in Quebec City in 1967. Saskatoon has twice had the honour of hosting — the Winter Games in 1971 and the Summer Games in 1989.