Having waited for her medals, Christine Girard deserves swift induction into Olympic Hall of Fame: Russell

It’s often been said that anything worth having is worth waiting for.

No one understands that more than Canadian weightlifter Christine Girard.

Girard, 34, represents an overlooked component of the Olympic credo. While many Canadian women have run or skated faster, or jumped higher, there is arguably no stronger woman than Girard in this country’s Olympic history.

She won what appeared to be the first medal by a Canadian female weightlifter at the London Games in 2012. It came in the form of a bronze-medal finish in the 63-kilogram division and it came after Girard finished fourth at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“I grew up thinking it was impossible to win a medal in my sport because I was a woman and because my sport was tainted by doping,” Girard said from her parent’s home in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., where the mother of three young children was being celebrated in advance of her induction to Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame.

“When I got close in Beijing that made me believe it was possible,” she said. “It could happen and I could be the one. It’s important to me to show other girls that it is possible to be the best in spite of it all.”

The bronze medal Girard won in London 2012 was upgraded to gold when gold medallist Maiya Maneza of Kazakhstan, centre, and silver medallist Svetlana Tsarukaeva of Russia, left, were both disqualified for doping. (The Associated Press)

Girard will enter the Hall of Fame with a stellar cast: Emilie Heymans, a diver who won four medals at four different Olympics; the late Jack Poole who, as head of the Vancouver 2010 organizing committee, is credited with bringing the Winter Olympics back to Canada; the women’s hockey team from those 2010 Olympics which delivered a gold medal for the home fans; Sydney 2000 triathlon gold medallist Simon Whitfield; Alexandre Despatie, the first Canadian man to win an Olympic diving medal; revered Judo coach Hiroshi Nakamur; the national women’s soccer team which won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Games: and the respected sports journalist, the late Randy Starkman of the Toronto Star.

And for Girard, the nod comes in the wake of her Olympic lustre being enhanced late last year when the bronze medal from London was elevated to gold, while the fourth-place finish from Beijing became a bronze in light of doping violations by athletes from Russia and Kazakhstan.

Those medals were awarded to Girard at a ceremony in Ottawa in 2018. They had been a long time coming to their rightful owner.

“I got those medals in in the name of all Canadians,” she said. “It was a win for the values of our country and for clean sport. There are things like endorsements and financial support that I’ll never get back. But my medals have a bigger meaning. Now there are other countries that believe there’s a better way to do this sport. I think we’re proud to be from a clean country and we believe in drug-free sport.”  

Jeane Lassen, the first Canadian woman to win a weightlifting medal at the world championships and who was an Olympic teammate in addition to being Girard’s co-coach, believes her induction is extremely significant.

“We long suspected, and now know without a doubt, that we were not competing on a level playing field,” Lassen said from her home in Whitehorse, Yukon. “The injustice of the situation didn’t slow Christine down. Instead she differentiated the sport from the system. Christine focused on what she loved about Olympic weightlifting — testing herself physically and mentally. She chose to live by her values and not be pressured to conform to those of her competitors.”

Girard grew up in Quebec never really thinking she could win an Olympic medal in weightlifting. (Associated Press)

Her sport came onto the Olympic program for women at the Sydney Games in 2000 and weightlifting in the years since has been plagued by drug scandals including the banishment of all Russian and Bulgarian lifters from the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Still, Girard believes one of the oldest Olympic disciplines has a foreseeable future and that young women are at the centre of weightlifting’s ongoing story.

“I like to see little girls doing sports that were once thought of to be for boys only,” she said. “You can wear pink if you’re a boy. You can lift weights if you’re a girl. It’s whatever works for you, as long as you follow what you’re passionate about.”

But along with that Girard makes one stipulation. It’s at the heart of why she’s at peace with her Olympic journey taking so long to find its proper reward. And it’s something she wants her little children to grow into believing about the Olympics.

“I hope they’ll be able to look back and understand something when they get older,” she said. “It’s that you have to believe in and be true to your values.”

And that’s why Christine Girard is understandably at or near the head of the Class of 2019 at Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame.                        

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