SPORTS

Olympic contender Girard inspired by Canada's former weightlifters

07/22/2012 10:00 EDT | Updated 09/21/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - The heaviest thing on Christine Girard's shoulders at the London Olympics may be the legacy left by the Canadian female weightlifters that came before her.

But it's not a burden that slows her down. It only adds extra inspiration.

Girard, who grew up in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., is thinking particularly of Maryse Turcotte, who competed for Canada in the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics and won gold in two Commonwealth Games and one Pan American Games before she retired.

"I have enormous respect for Maryse and for what she did," Girard said from White Rock, B.C., where she trains and lives with her husband and coach Walter Bailey. "She was one of the first to stand out at the international level.

"Maryse showed what it's possible to do, she dared to do it. I want to do the same thing and hope to push things further in the future."

Girard hopes that milestone will be recorded in London, where she will compete in the 63-kilogram event on July 31. If she makes the podium, she'll be the first Canadian woman to get an Olympic medal in that discipline.

The 27-year-old, who was born in Elliot Lake, Ont., is not discouraged by incidents of doping within her sport.

"They have their reasons and I know this is not always their choice as an athlete," she said of those who cheat. "My goal is to show that if you work hard you can beat the others. Maybe it takes more years of training to get to that point — for me, it's 17 years — but I honestly think it's possible."

Girard is already well on her way to proving her point. She lifted 135 kilograms in the clean and jerk during training earlier this year — tying the Olympic record — and successfully hoisted 136 kilograms recently.

"I've spent years testing that every month," she said. "If I'm capable of doing that in training, then others can too."

Girard, who was fourth at the Beijing Games, holds the record in the snatch and in total weight her in class at the Commonwealth Games — 60 kilograms — and the Pan American Games (63 kilograms).

"If I lift 136 kilograms and I get beat a few minutes later by someone else who will hold the official record for the next few years, I'll tell myself that at least I have achieved something, I've had the record for a few minutes anyway," she said. "I think even that would be significant."

However Girard, who is the fourth daughter in a family of weightlifters, believes there are more important things than medals and records.

"When I was in Paris for the world championships last fall, an athlete from France came to see me and told me, 'We know what you're about and what you have done today and it's really exceptional, so, congratulations,'" Girard said. "I really thought that was special, to be acknowledged by people from other countries.

"That's what I want to experience at the Olympics, that the world knows we are nice and polite in Canada but that doesn't mean we can't compete."

Girard is also aiming to make her mark as a weightlifting coach and hopefully fill a void in the sport where theory can be lacking and getting a good coach can be a matter of luck. Girard herself has gone through four coaches in the last five years.

"It's hard to find someone who is really able to give advice on how to build a training plan," she said. "When I was doing my training for Level 2, there was no one to really show me how to do it. Every time I changed coaches, I had to get used to their ways because there is no standard way of doing things."

Girard, who has a teaching degree, had coaches that had some strengths but she never really clicked with them.

But Girard is working well with Guy Martineau, who was with her at the last world championships and will be at her side in London. At the same time, Girard is also meeting her own needs, setting her own training schedule and finding that works well. She also started helping other weightlifters.

"Katelynn Williams, who was also at the Commonwealth Games too, came to me and told me, 'Either you make my schedule or I give up. I'd rather have you at my side,'" said Girard, who has won medals in three Commonwealth Games with gold in 2010, silver in 2006 and bronze in 2002.

"I took her under my wing because she loads up pretty close to me and I thought that eventually she could be a good training partner," said Girard, who also gives weightlifting instruction to people doing crossfit exercises.