On the eve of the Winter Games, there is no bigger favorite than speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan. Only a few weeks ago, she led Canada to a sweep at the world sprint championships. She's coming off a 2000 season that saw her named Canada's female athlete of the year.
For a less experienced athlete, perhaps a less spiritual one, this could be troublesome. Few things are as stressful as coming into the Olympics as the definitive favorite, especially in a race where one slip can be disastrous. Remember Dan Jansen?
But this speed skater has a quiet confidence. She's been to the top of the mountain before and struggled to return there again. A born-again Christian, Le May Doan says that her belief in Jesus steadies her on and off the ice.
In the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. LeMay Doan was one of the favorites in the 500 meters, the race that has become her specialty. But she caught an edge and fell, losing the race and any chance at a medal. That race undermined her confidence until she turned to Christ.
"No matter how I do, Jesus has given me a peace about my sport," she says. "He's always going to be with me to direct me in my life."
Four years later, at Nagano, Japan, LeMay Doan rebounded to win the gold in the 500 meters and the bronze in the women's 1,000. Even though she had proven herself, such success inexplicably led to a prolonged slump, and another test of her faith.
"I was always second, third or fourth," LeMay Doan says. "In spite of how people looked at me, or how the media or other skaters perceived me, to go out there and race took patience and humility for me to deal with everything."
Once again her faith and reading the Bible gave her a perspective on sport and life.
"Humility played a role in my response because I was OK with not winning the races," she says. "My perspective on this comes from my faith in God. Not placing first didn't mean I was any less of an athlete than anybody else and I didn't envy or get mad at the people who were beating me. Of course, I wanted to beat them, but they were skating better."
Today, the 31-year-old LeMay Doan maintains that her post-Olympic slump was a blessing in disguise. Coming to Salt Lake, she has won 9 of 10 races and twice set world records in the 500 meters.
"I never broke under the pressure during the entire season," she told the Toronto Star. "I was consistent and for me that's an accomplishment. It's harder to do that than have a good race here and there."
In addition, she and the rest of the Canadian team have been surprisingly hospitable. Two months ago, they invited U.S. men's speed skater Casey FitzRandolph to train at their home skating headquarters, the Calgary Olympic Oval, considered by many to be the fastest long track in the world. That would be akin to the Austrian ski team taking Picabo Street under their wing or the Canadian hockey team willing to split the practice ice with the rival Czechs or Americans. FitzRandolph is one of favorites in the men's sprints.
"I've been accused of not being aggressive and competitive enough," says LeMay Doan, who will be Canada's flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremonies. "But it's a fine line. between being cocky and being confident. I go out and skate, and I'm proud of myself and my abilities, but I'm not boasting to anybody."