Catching up with the fastest woman on ice: Catriona Le May Doan

By Adam Freill

Catriona Le May Doan is known for setting Canadian and Olympic records over a speed skating career that spanned four Olympic Games, but just because she has retired does not mean that her Olympic career is over yet, she’s just moved her playing field to the broadcast booth. Recently named as a co-host for the London Summer Games, Le May Doan will bring insight into the inner workings of an elite-level athlete each day while the games are on.

“It is an eight hour show. At times it will be crazy, and at times, we become more like traffic cops directing focus from one place to another. What I hope is that I am able to bring some reality to Canadians, to explain how the athletes are feeling, good or bad,” she said during a recent interview from her home in Calgary. “I do understand what they are going through, regardless of the result, because I’ve had every one of those results, good and bad.”

While her 4 a.m. to noon (Eastern Standard Time) might be tough for North American viewing schedules, being on air when the local time in London is between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. does have its perks. “We will get a lot of live events, and we will be there for a lot of the medals, and that’ll be a lot of fun.” Don’t ask her to predict the results though. She knows better than that. “I will never predict medal numbers. I know that games are games, they are unpredictable and that’s why we watch sports, because there are no guarantees.”

That being said, she does acknowledge that Canada is aiming to improve on the 18 medals won during the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, and suggests that rowing, trampoline and cycling might be favourable events for Canada’s medal hunt.

Finding great ice

In speed skating circles Calgary is known for having the fastest ice on the planet, so it might not come as a surprise that it is the home rink of Canada’s Catriona Le May Doan. But what makes the location so good for making ice where records fall? “There is so much science,” says the athlete, who is known for her record-setting pace. “The great thing about the oval is that they are the experts. Before a big competition they would cancel public skating, they make the ice thinner. And they have a bottom temperature to the ice and a top temperature.”

The ice in Calgary is made with demineralized water, which helps to reduce the amount of dirt and mineral build-up that can increase friction between the ice and skate blades, and the temperatures of the surface is tightly controlled to range from -2 to -7 degrees Celsius, depending on the needs of the activity.

And although she probably won’t admit it, Le May Doan likely knows more about the ice than most of the skaters who have laced up the blades there, having met her husband, ice maker Bart Doan, at the oval. “He was driving the Zamboni and making the ice – that shows you the amount of time we spent at the oval.”

Catriona, the competitor

“I’ve never been competitive with other people, but I am very competitive with myself,” says Le May Doan. “My first or second year, I was at the Canadian championships, and the organizers came over to my mom and told her that I had just broken a Canadian record. Well, the next day they came over and apologized, explaining that I had just missed the record. She came and told me, and my reaction was, ‘Okay, how fast do I have to go to break it?’”

The Olympic experience

Over the course of her competitive career, Le May Doan was in four opening ceremonies, beginning in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, and was the Canadian flag bearer in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah. “My first one was a bit of an eye-opener,” she says of the experience. “If you are not ready, it can be overwhelming.”

Into the broadcast booth

Catriona says that she’s excited for the athletes competing in London, but is both excited and nervous for herself at the same time, since her role as morning show co-host is not something that she has done before.

“This is a new role for me, and it is overwhelming. I have so much work to do. I go back and forth from, ‘Okay, this is what I need to do,’ to panic,” she laughs. “It’s normal, but it is scary.”