As the 2016 Summer Olympics kick off today in Rio de Janeiro, a South Surrey Olympian who won a bronze medal four years ago appears set for an upgrade.
Canadian weightlifter Christine Girard, who finished third in the women’s 63-kg division at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, is now in line for the gold medal after the two lifters who finished above her tested positive for banned substances during recent rounds of retesting.
Gold medallist Maiya Maneza of Kazakhstan tested positive earlier this year for stanozolol – a banned substance – which appeared to bump Girard into the silver-medal position. But last month it was revealed that silver medallist, Russia’s Svetlana Tsurukaeva, was among 11 new athletes to have failed tests for anabolic steroids, which would bump the Quebec-born Girard all the way to the top of the podium.
And while the 31-year-old – who is now retired from competition – is excited to receive the podium bump, she has mixed emotions on the news that so many of her competitors were doping.
“It’s worrisome for our sport, and I don’t know what the future looks like for weightlifting now, considering all these positive tests,” she told Peace Arch News.
“So it’s a bit sad. But it’s also a good time to be a clean athlete and be able to prove that you can reach a high level without (doping).
With her bronze medal in 2012, Girard – who also finished fourth at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing – became the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal in weightlifting.
And though it may be some time before Girard has the actual gold medal in her possession – redistribution of medals could take up to a year, due to appeals and other International Olympic Committee red tape – she takes comfort in knowing that her score is immediately considered the top in her division.
“To say now that my performance was the best in the 63 (kilogram division) in London… is quite an achievement to me. It makes me really proud,” she said. “Even it takes awhile for the process to go through… I’m the best in my weight class.”
Though it’s rare for an Olympic athlete already on the podium to jump even just one placement, Girard said she isn’t that surprised that so many lifters have failed tests. She has long suspected some athletes of doping, she said.
“It’s something that I always knew, always suspected. Ever since I started competing at the international level, you’d see some of these athletes changing year to year in a way that couldn’t possibly be natural,” she said.
“We could tell, but they weren’t getting caught, so it was just something we had to deal with.”
As a clean athlete who was tested often – “they test you any time, any day,” she said – Girard said instead of becoming frustrated with what she and others saw as blatant cheating, she instead chose to focus on her own performance while continuing to be proud that she was doing things the right way.
“I promised myself that I just wouldn’t worry about it. My goal was always to just be the best that I could be, and push myself to the max. I love my sport and I love being an athlete, so for me, it was just all about trying to better myself,” she said.
Even now, she doesn’t closely follow the news of doping retests and results, instead leaving that up to her husband, Walter.
Encouragement from other clean athletes – from various countries – also kept her spirits up, she said.
“I’d get messages from people saying, ‘Hey, we know you’re clean, so what you’re doing is awesome.’ So I’d keep going, because sometimes the best way to fight doping is to just be as good as them without being doped.”
In all her years of competition, Girard – who now runs Kilophile Weightlifting Club in South Surrey – said she never considering breaking the rules, nor was she ever approached to do so.
“It’s not only me – it’s the way our entire country has decided to go. Our country has put out a lot of money to fight doping. Throughout my 20-year career I have never had anyone asking me to take any drugs – it wasn’t even a temptation for me, and not something I would even consider.”
Now, while she waits for the official word – not to mention the delivery of her gold medal – Girard tries not to let her mind wander into “what-could-have-been” territory, and instead chooses to focus on her many fond memories of the London Games.
“Well, I obviously wonder what it would’ve been like, to be there and hear my anthem playing and see my flag going up – I’m sure I would’ve just cried even more than I did,” she laughed.
“It would’ve been a really special moment, but at the same time, winning bronze was a really special moment, too. It was the first (female weightlifting) medal ever for our country, and I don’t want to remember it in a bad way. It was amazing for me.”
As proud as she is, Girard said she doesn’t have her medal prominently displayed in her South Surrey home.
“It’s actually hiding in my closet – it’s safe there,” she said. “I haven’t displayed it yet, but I might do that with the gold now.”