Otherwise for a no-girls rule, Isabelle Charest could have ended up shooting pucks rather than skating in circles.
Canada’s chef de mission for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics followed her older sister Nathalie into speed skating. Nathalie had her mind set on hockey, but growing up in the eastern Quebec town of Rimouski, half a day’s drive from Montreal, “this tiny city didn’t allow a woman to play baseball,” Isabelle said.
Lucky for speed skating. Isabelle Charest went on to win three Olympic medals and seven world championship awards as one of Canada’s greatest short-track skaters, and she would like to parlay her success in game to get more women involved.
“It’s really the legacy I want to depart from being chef de mission,” Charest said. “When I have a voice, I wish to use it for this.”
One of Canada’s sobering statistics: Just 2 percent of women between 12 and 17 are getting enough physical activity. And if a woman hasn’t engaged in sports by age 10 in Canada, there’s only a 10-per-cent chance she’ll be physically active as an adult.
Outside of her work as the Canadian team’s spokeswoman, mentor and head cheerleader for Pyeongchang, the 46-year-old Charest works southeast of Montreal in communications to the Val-des-Cerfs school commission. She has seen the drop-out firsthand.
But she also understands the chances are there.
“It is funny because when I moved to Rio [as an assistant chef for the 2016 Olympics], it was clear to me the diversity of sport, and how everyone can find their passion,” Charest said. “It might be a game that is more artistic, it might be a game that’s stronger. You see that whole selection of bodies. So, there’s something for everybody.”
Perception may be skewed, Charest said, by the overwhelming success in Brazil where women won 16 of Canada’s 22 medals.
“It feels like it is kind of a vicious circle, since people think, ‘Well, women are good, they are effective,'” she said. “But no. We are in need of girls to participate in sports as it is for their life, it is due to their well-being.”
Only 99 days out in the Pyeongchang Games, Charest spent her morning in a Toronto public school as part of the Canadian Olympic School Program, which provides online education tools aimed at encouraging safer and more inclusive sport surroundings, inspiring Olympic values, and engaging children in healthy, active lifestyles.
Charest was initially a football player, and took the game up again 3 decades back. She is married to Steve Charbonneau, a former defensive lineman with the Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Eskimos. They have two kids.
She competed in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 Winter Games, winning a silver and two bronze, all in the 3,000-metre relay. She recorded three gold, two silver and two bronze medals over four world championships.
Canada’s team, which is expected to number approximately 230, has not declared a particular medal goal for South Korea. A 222-member team seized 25 medals, including 10 gold, in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
Charest said she has place any medal prediction in the back of her mind.
“Since we want to concentrate on the process, and we ensure we have the environment for the athletes to do,” she said. “And even for the athletes at this stage, you don’t consider the chords, you just think of what you will need to do to prepare yourself. But we understand if we place [in place] this optimum performing environment for the athletes, we could have very good results, because we have seen it and in World Cups.
“So we could be one of the best nations, if not the best country, at the Games.”
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail