COVER

Taking her best shot

BARRY CAME February 9 1998
COVER

Taking her best shot

BARRY CAME February 9 1998

Taking her best shot

For almost anyone else, it might well have been the moment, the right time to slip gracefully into much-deserved retirement There were already laurels aplenty, not least those two gold medals at Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994, the only time a Canadian woman has ever won twice in a single Winter Olympics. Since then, however, the results have been less than stellar as marriage, motherhood and faltering health interrupted Myriam Bédard’s attempt to once more scale the topmost heights of biathlon, the sport that—virtually alone—she popularized in Canada. So why not shoulder the skis, sling the rifle and call it a career? “I thought about quitting, for sure,” Bédard admits. “These last few years have not been easy.” But with a glint in eyes as blue as winter ice, she adds: “I want to go to the Olympics again.

Maybe I’ll make the top 10 this time around, maybe not. The victory rests in just being there.”

If that is true, then Bédard has already won. For the 28-year-old from Quebec City will compete for Canada on the country’s biathlon team, as she has done in the two preceding Winter Olympics. Not only that, of the eight members of the team—four men, four women—Bédard remains Canada’s best hope for a medal in the gruelling sport that combines the strength and stamina of cross-country skiing with the precision of rifle shooting. “She’s still our favorite,” says Terry Sheahan, executive director of Biathlon Canada. “Myriam’s making a comeback. If she goes into the competition feeling good and her energy reserves have not been too depleted, she has a chance of being a medallist again.”

Even Bédard concedes that the odds are against a repeat performance of her twin triumphs at Lillehammer, when she won gold in both the 15 km as well as the 7.5 km. ‘The generations have

The queen of biathlon tries to recapture the magic

changed,” she ruefully acknowledges. “I’ve gone from being the youngest member of the team to being one of oldest.” Much else has transpired since those Games in Norway. Two months after the Olympics, she married longtime companion and fellow biathlete Jean Paquet. Ten months later, baby daughter Maude was born. And six months after that happy event, Bédard was diagnosed with fatigue and hypothyroidism, an affliction that slowed down her metabolism. She later discovered she suffered from a host of food allergies, which were also sapping her energy.

Since then, Bédard has learned to cope with the allergies and thyroid problems. “I’m on a strict, rotational diet,” she explains, “and can’t eat the same thing two days in a row. I also have to avoid a long list of foods—eggs, milk, too many of them to name.” She manages the thyroid condition with medication. “It’s been a really tough battle,” she says. “But I think I’ve finally reached the point where everything is pretty much under control.”

As Bédard’s health has improved, so has her performance. Last December, in the run-up to the Olympics, she managed to post her best international result in more than a year, placing 15th in the 15-km event in World Cup competition at Ostersund, Sweden. “That was an important result for me,” she recalls. “For the first time in a long while, I felt I was getting back on track. I was able to breathe, I was able to fight, I was able to give the best of myself.” Among the four women on the team, only Bédard and Kristin Berg were on the 1994 squad in Norway. Nikki Keddie of Toronto and Michelle Collard of Vanderhoof, B.C., will be competing in their first Games. Berg and Keddie have both finished in the top 15 at World Cup events—in the opinion of Sheahan, “they could do it again at the Olympics but only if they race their best.” The same applies to the men’s team, led by veteran Steve Cyr, 30, of Val Belair, Que. In last year’s world championships, he finished ninth, boosting hopes of a similar result in Japan, perhaps even a shot at a medal.

The Canadian team as a whole faces fierce competition, led by the Germans, the Russians, a host of Scandinavians, the French and a few eastern Europeans. “The field is far stronger right across the board this year than it was in 1994,” says Sheahan. “That’s one of the problems Myriam is facing in her comeback. It’s not going to be enough for her to be as good as she was in 1994. She has to be better.” No one is more aware of that than Bédard herself. ‘Will I be disappointed if I don’t win a medal?” she asks. “Not really. In my sport, the difference between being first and 100th is sometimes less than a minute. All I really wanted to do was get to Nagano. I managed to do that. Everything else is a bonus.”

BARRY CAME