6-year wait has made Canada's newest Olympic champion appreciate medal more

Nobody could ever blame Christine Girard for being bitter. For being consumed with anger by lost glory and opportunity.

The retired Canadian weightlifter has emerged as the poster athlete for Olympians whose moment of triumph was robbed by a cheat.

On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee confirmed Girard will be awarded the London 2012 gold medal in the 63-kilogram weight class. Girard initially won the bronze medal but was elevated to gold after the IOC re-tested more than 1,500 urine samples from the Beijing and London Olympics.

The samples of Kazakhstan’s Maiya Maneza and Russia’s Svetlana Tsarukaeva, who originally finished 1-2, respectively, in London, both tested positive for banned substances.

“It’s been a long process but to get closer to the end, I mean this is the last step before I get the medal. I’m excited,” Girard told the CBC.

Girard, from Rouyn-Noranda, Que., said she always had doubts about her competitors.

‘Had suspicions’

“[I] had suspicions because some of females had some physical changes that would be really hard to get naturally,” Girard, 33, said.

The IOC stores doping samples for 10 years. More than 1,500 samples from Beijing and London were re-tested leading to 110 sanctions, affecting 60 medals.

For Girard, a lot has happened since she competed in London back in 2012.

Girard initially won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, but the two athletes who placed ahead of her, Maiya Maneza of Kazakhstan and Svetlana Tsarukaeva of Russia, were both disqualified after they tested positive for doping.4:03

“In six years my life has changed so much. I have three kids now,” Girard said. “I was not expecting to be thrown back into my old life, but this actually really allows me to appreciate the athlete I was because things are so different now.”

Girard’s ability to be so positive is remarkable, considering this is the second time she has been retroactively awarded a medal. In 2016, Girard was bumped up to bronze for the 2008 Beijing Olympics after the silver medallist was stripped of her medal.

“I thought about it more two years ago when I first heard about the re-testing, [but] now I don’t really have any hard feelings,” Girard said. “Yes it would have been nice [to get the medal at the Olympics] but I think my medal means so much more now. That moment is not what will change my life. What will change is I can actually say I am Olympic champion and that I did it the right way and show other athletes it is possible.”

That’s not to say she hasn’t thought of the financial windfall that might have accompanied a gold medal, the first ever by a Canadian in weightlifting.

“I have had to make peace with the fact that I lost a lot in terms of financial support,” she said. “I finished fourth in 2008 and I should have had bronze … so my life would have been completely different. I lost out in a lot of different ways.” 

Canada’s Christine Girard competes in the London Olympics in 2012.(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Girard isn’t the first Canadian Olympian to receive their medal years after competing. In 2014,  shot-putter Dylan Armstrong received a bronze medal from Beijing, six years after finishing fourth there. And cross-country skier Beckie Scott had two separate ceremonies that elevated her from a bronze to a gold from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

It’s an unenviable club. But Girard doesn’t devote much time to what might have been — the missed opportunity to climb on to the podium in 2008, robbed in 2012 of that iconic Olympic moment of hearing your country’s national anthem.

“I also won in different ways and I think I want to focus on that, on what my medals mean now,” Girard said. “I know I have lost a lot, but I gained other things and I want that message to be passed around; that I was able to reach an Olympic podium while being clean and staying true to my values and that’s what really matters.”

Anti-doping advocate

Girard remains a strong anti-doping advocate. She thinks the IOC should have dealt more harshly with Russian athletes ahead of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. At the same time, she thinks more athletes than ever are competing cleanly. And that’s a positive outcome of what she has gone through.

“I have a voice that is way stronger against anti-doping than I would have had if I had my medals six years ago.  And that means a lot to me,” Girard said.  “It was important to me when I was competing to believe that was on a fair field, which obviously I wasn’t. I hope the next generation of athletes can actually have what I didn’t have.”

Girard is still working out details with IOC and the Canadian Olympic Committee about when and where her gold medal ceremony will take place.

“One thing is for sure, I want to share it with my friends, family and with Canadians,” she said. “I think this is a huge win for our country, our values and I want that to be spread around and be a nice celebration for people not just for me.”
 

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