EDMONTON — The International Olympic Committee cannot give Christine Girard four years. The best they can do is two medals, and she will happily accept them.
Because she has already waited far too long.
The now retired Canadian weightlifter earned gold in the 63-kg category at London 2012 and bronze from Beijing 2008. That she was cheated out of those precious baubles and her history-making moments on the podium, not once but twice, by dopers who finished ahead of her is neither novel nor fair.
In 2016, the IOC conducted large-scaled re-testing of urine samples from Beijing and London, catching more than 100 cheaters in the process. Two years later, all avenues of appeal have finally expired for two disgraced steroid-using weightlifters from Kazakhstan and another from Russia, allowing the IOC to announce that Girard will be awarded both medals, six and 12 years late, sometime in the next few months. She becomes the first Canadian Olympic gold medallist in her sport in either gender.
The 33-year-old coach, wife and mother-of-three who now lives in South Surrey, B.C., prides herself on moving forward rather than dwelling on what-ifs, but Olympic medals can be life-changing. And her life after Beijing needed a change.
“From 2008 to 2012, those were the four hardest years of my life,” Girard said. “I came back with a fourth place, which is a fail for most people, and I went through a really, really hard time. I had very little support. I’m pretty sure if I’d had my bronze medal in Beijing I would have had a lot more support and it would have changed those four years of my life quite a bit. And the gold medal from 2012 would have changed how people would perceive me when I came back. I would have been one of the only two gold medallists from the Games instead of one of many bronze. So yeah, my life would have been different if I’d had my medals on time.”
Better. More hopeful. Less challenging.
“I definitely had burnout, depression in the year following Beijing,” she said. “It was a hard time.”
She got through it, she says, with a “good medical team” and the help of her husband, family and friends. She has written a book, in her first language of French, about the struggle she went through during the period between Olympics. When it is translated into English and published this summer, she believes the title will be From Defeat to Victory.
And that’s how she is telling her story.
“I think right now my medals have a stronger message than it would have if I had them on time. And I think that’s what really matters to me,” she said. “I didn’t have the chance to compete on a fair field, but I’m hoping those medals will help other athletes in future generations to have that chance to compete on a fair level internationally and at the Olympics. I truly believe in that dream. I want it to become true and I see the IOC is working hard on that as well.”
Few Canadians work harder against doping than former cross-country skier Beckie Scott, who was upgraded from bronze in Salt Lake City to silver and finally to gold, after the two Russians who finished ahead of her were found to have doped. Scott reached out to Girard two years ago when the pending upgrade from fourth to bronze was announced and they spoke in person last year in Calgary.
“I definitely want to be an advocate for clean sport,” said Girard. “It’s really important, and it’s the message behind those medals. That being said, I have three young kids, so I’m quite busy. I definitely want to do everything I can to help that fight against doping. It’s really important and it’s who we are as Canadians.”
Weightlifting has long been a haven for drug cheats and Girard certainly had her suspicions about some competitors. But in order to make the commitment it takes to stay in the sport she loves at an elite level, Girard always had to focus on herself and hope the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency would get the upper hand in their fight against drug cheats. Today’s announcement marks a small victory on that front.
“I just wanted to show how good we could get while staying true to ourselves and to our values,” Girard said. “For me, it was really important to show to the world that we could be good. I knew I had it in me. I pushed myself and I got there.”
And she is finally getting the recognition she deserved all along.
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