Written by: Matt Johnson for Sask Sport
Photo credit: Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame
Catriona Le May Doan is considered one of the greatest Olympians the province of Saskatchewan has ever produced.
And the Saskatoon product is set to add yet another highlight to her hall-of-fame resume, as the two-time Olympic gold medallist will serve as the Chef de Mission for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
While most only fathom being a part of one Olympic Games, this will be Le May Doan’s 11th, after four trips as an athlete — where she twice served as Team Canada’s flag-bearer — as well as six more appearances, five as a media member and one as a mission staff member.
But this Games will be different for Le May Doan. As Chef de Mission she will serve as a spokesperson for Team Canada throughout the games, as well as a mentor, motivator and supporter for the athletes. It is a prominent position that comes with responsibility.
But despite that, she believes this appointment was tailor made for her.
“When I say that some people kind of go ‘why?’ It’s a volunteer role, I have to take a month off of work and it’s not a glamorous job, but it’s a role that I feel I’m just so proud of because of the emphasis we put in Canada on a Chef of a team,” said Le May Doan. “Being in this role and being Chef is something I’ve always dreamt of doing.”
After being the lead athlete mentor for the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, Le May Doan realized her next goal was to take on the role as Chef de Mission.
“It was the first time being at a Games just for the athletes, and it’s the first time at any Games that I was really sad when they were over,” said Le May Doan. “Don’t get me wrong, they’re a lot of work, but they’re amazing. It was the first time that I didn’t feel the pressure of performance because I was trying to help everybody else with their performance.”
“It was an incredible feeling and I just thought, I want to do that again.”
Le May Doan is set to follow in some extremely impressive footsteps as Chef, like fellow gold medallists Mark Tewksbury and Marnie McBean. But perhaps most notable of all is a fellow Saskatchewan woman Diane Jones Konihowski — also raised in Saskatoon — who was Team Canada’s Chef de Mission at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
The importance of a Saskatchewan product in such a prominent position is something not lost on Sheila Kelly, the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame — a hall of fame Le May Doan was inducted to in 2006.
“When you have somebody who has been so successful and is homegrown and wears Saskatchewan on her sleeves — that’s a huge boost,” said Kelly. “That’s just such a huge boost for the competitors that are coming after her, the grassroots, the builders and the coaches who are rallying their athletes saying ‘keep at it and don’t give up.’ To be able to point to the success that Catriona has had.”
That success is evident. Le May Doan donned the maple leaf in 1992 in Albertville, 1994 in Lillehammer, 1998 in Nagano and 2002 in Salt Lake City. After winning gold in the 500-metres long track speed skating in Nagano, she entered Salt Lake City looking to become the first Canadian individual athlete to repeat as an Olympic gold medallist. She did exactly that, winning her second-consecutive gold medal in her final Games as an athlete and earning the media-voted Canada’s Athlete of the Year title in the process.
“You’re trying to change a stat like that, and it’s overwhelming,” said Le May Doan. “There was a lot of pressure, like just beyond what I can even describe it. I think beyond what I will ever feel in my life. I’ll feel stressed, but I won’t feel that pressure.”
“When people say it’s four years, usually it’s 24 years that they’ve been training,” said Le May Doan. “We have to do what we can to put ourselves in the position to be the very best that we can, but we can’t expect more than that. There’s a level of what we can’t control of what other people do.”
That’s an example of the experience Le May Doan provides to Team Canada and it’s part of what she will look to bring to the table as Chef De Mission.
“It’s somebody who has the experience, it’s somebody who can deal with the media, deal with athletes, and be that leader, be that mentor, be that person that sort of takes the brunt of stuff if there is anything. But also, come game time, our role is to step aside enough to focus on the athlete,” said Le May Doan.
Perhaps what symbolizes Le May Doan’s long-standing desire to be appointed into the role the best is, despite being a tattoo enthusiast, she put off getting the Olympic rings tattoo until now — an earmark amongst Olympians across the world.
I represented Saskatchewan at three Canada Games. Saskatchewan will always be home. It’s where my roots are.
“I’d always said I won’t get it unless I’m Chef,” said Le May Doan. “My core values are about the impact that we can have on others and giving back. So now I think taking on that role of Chef, that’s more of who I am. It’s about helping others be their very best and helping them have their very best experiences. I feel like for me, the Games have come full circle.”
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
The Beijing 2022 Olympics are yet another opportunity for Le May Doan to represent Saskatchewan on the grandest stage of amateur sport. It’s where her career got started. It was the Lions Speed Skating Club that introduced her to the sport, which is where she ultimately trained until relocating to Calgary in 1988 to join the Canadian National Team.
“The people that have been involved at the club, the Olympians that have been developed from that club and just the tight-knit community that it’s been. It’s been an amazing club,” said Le May Doan. “The fact that there’s so much history there and I’m a part of it. I’m super proud of that.
“I represented Saskatchewan at three Canada Games. Saskatchewan will always be home. It’s where my roots are. It’s where my parents settled. They’re immigrants. My sisters and I are first-generation and I’m very proud that we are from Saskatchewan.
“My mom brought the same Saskatchewan flag to every Olympics. I held it on the podium in 1998 and in 2002, I skated around the oval with it.”
And it’s moments such as those which exemplify exactly why Le May Doan is considered by many as one of the iconic sport figures of the province — her constant pride of her roots.
Despite living in Calgary for over 30 years, Saskatoon is always home to her. She was recently asked on a podcast ‘what do you think of when I say Calgary?’”
“I said ‘it’s this one park where I walk my dog.’ I will never say it’s home because I’m a Saskatchewan person,” said Le May Doan “I’m driving my vehicle right now and I have Roughrider decals on it.”
That sentiment is one echoed by Kelly, who appreciates everything Le May Doan has done and continues to do for sport in the province — which foreshadows exactly why she has received the Chef de Mission appointment.
“She is a Saskatchewan girl through and through. She’s always very supportive of Saskatchewan sport,” said Kelly. “There is not an egotistical bone in her body. She is quintessential Saskatchewan. She’s humble. She appreciates what others have done for her. She has a very strong commitment to giving back. Those really are Saskatchewan qualities.”
“Saskatchewan has always been a part of me and always will be a part of me wherever I reside,” said Le May Doan.