Success, then struggle that made the success sweeter is the story of Chandra Crawford’s cross-country ski career.
The three-time Olympian 2006 gold medallist is done racing competitively.
Crawford, 30, announced her decision Thursday at her hometown’s Canmore Nordic Centre where she put on skis as soon as she could walk.
“I do feel a little sad about it being over,” Crawford told The Canadian Press. “I’ve always been a victim of ‘fear of missing out’, ‘fomo’ syndrome.
“To see races and see people having fun is always going to be hard and I’m always going to happy for them and cheering for them and know what they’re experiencing out there. That’s the sad part. No more races.”
Crawford stunned Canadians and the international cross-country ski community by winning the women’s sprint in Turin, Italy, in her rookie season on the national team. Her air guitar routine atop the podium was just as memorable.
“It was so surprising,” Crawford recalled. “I really loved seeing the red finish line in the snow. It’s such a vivid thing and such a surprise to see it. I didn’t know how far behind my competitors were.
“Standing on the podium singing is very clear in my mind, especially because I sang the introduction. It was the middle of the song and I started singing. I got my money’s worth out of that anthem.”
Crawford also won seven World Cup medals, including two gold, during her career. After her victory at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, she founded the organization Fast and Female aimed at getting girls between 9 to 19 into sport and keeping them involved.
Spending more time on Fast and Female and pursuing post-secondary education are Crawford’s vehicles for her transition out of elite sport.
“It’s nice to have something really pulling you, to not be scared of the unknown coming forward,” Crawford said. “I’m very lucky to be retiring on my own terms at the time I want to.
“I’m going to deepen my commitment to Fast and Female and do more of the work. I’ve had to sit on my hands and just step back and focus on skiing. I’d like to go to school and pursue some kind of business leadership education and focus on that for the next few years.”
Crawford was beset with ankle and lower-leg injuries requiring surgery before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., where she finished 26th.
Exhaustion and burn out hampered her preparation for last month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where she didn’t advance out of her first heat and finished 44th.
“It’s a bit backwards maybe. The normal order in a movie would have been struggle and success,” Crawford said.
“It makes me appreciate that was a really great day ‘06. I feel like the value increased as a result of continuing to chase it. I feel more resilient and more well-rounded because of it. And it makes me a better leader for Fast and Female.”
Crawford was 22 when she won her Olympic gold medal. She was considered Canada’s next cross-country star following Olympic medallists Beckie Scott and Sara Renner. Crawford won World Cup races twice in January, 2008, including one in Canmore.
But her lower-leg pain kept her from racing the entire 2008-09 season. A year to the day before her race in Whistler, she had surgery on both legs for compartment syndrome, a condition that compresses nerves and blood vessels.
Defending her title was going to be a long shot because the sprint that year was a classic race and not skate-ski as it had been in Turin.
Crawford was committed to improving her classic technique for 2010, but because of the surgery, she wasn’t at optimum fitness for Whistler.
She was second in a World Cup sprint in 2011, but unable to find her speed and power as the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, approached.
Crawford’s relationship with Cross Country Canada became strained when she left the national team and went home in February, 2013, before the racing season in Europe concluded.
Crawford declined her spot on the Canadian team last year because she felt the demands of travelling to international summer camps would further exhaust her.
The executive director for Cross Country Canada praised Crawford on Thursday for inspiring girls and young women to get into sport.
“Chandra is not only a decorated athlete, she been a leader on the ski team, especially among younger girls who are the future of our sport,” Davin MacIntosh said. “Fast and Female, which Chandra founded in 2006, has filled a gap in our sport which for years before (we) struggled to fill.
“It takes a special kind of leadership to inspire young women, which Fast and Female works with, and Chandra has it. We’ll certainly miss having her in Canadian team colours, but we know she won’t be far away and hope she’ll continue to work with us and with Fast and Female for many years to come.”
Crawford knew when she was crossed the line in Sochi that she’d raced her last race. She doesn’t regret competing there, even though the result was far from where she’d been eight years earlier.
“Because what if?” Crawford said. “What if it had worked out gloriously? I can’t imagine watching it on TV from home. I have goose bumps thinking about what that would have been like. I would have probably thrown things at the TV and said ‘I should have been there’.
“I’m so glad I did it.”