A day after making an unexpected trip to the podium at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Marianne St-Gelais promised she wouldn’t change.
Four years later, it’s clear she kept her word.
The short-track speedskater is just as spontaneous and captivating as the person Canadians got to know in 2010 when she won a silver medal in the 500-metre race on her 20th birthday. A few days later, she added another silver with the women’s relay team.
Since then, the St-Felicien, Que., native no longer flies under the radar.
“I still get people congratulating me for what I did four years ago,” she said. “But I have remained myself and I’m proud of that.
“The person you saw in 2010 is the same person you see now. I don’t want to change. Yes, I’m older, I’m more mature, but I’m the same flamboyant Marianne St-Gelais.”
Heading into the Sochi Olympics, St-Gelais is aware that things will be different this time. It’s her second Winter Games, and expectations will be higher. But she isn’t putting pressure on herself.
“In Vancouver, I came in as the rookie and I wasn’t sure what I’d come back with,” she said. “I had goals, but they weren’t necessarily to win medals.
“In Sochi, I’ll have to handle the pressure differently. I’ve had results and I want to get more. I want to win more medals. But you deal with pressure in the moment and I hope to handle it the right way.”
Having expectations means taking a different approach and preparing differently than four years ago.
“I’ll be the one who is most disappointed if it doesn’t work and the happiest if it does,” she said. “As for outside factors, I try not to worry about them. I put enough pressure on myself.”
And if she misses the podium, it won’t be the end of the world.
“Honestly, its fine to train for months and years, but you don’t know what’s going to happen when you get on the ice for an Olympic race,” she said. “I hate when people use the word ‘choke’ when an athlete doesn’t get the result that people expect. I don’t think of it as ‘he choked.’ It just wasn’t his day.”
She takes inspiration from Canadian Perdita Felicien, the favourite to win the 100-metre hurdles at the 2004 Olympics in Athens who tripped over the first hurdle and crashed out of the final.
“I was just starting out in short-track at the time,” said St-Gelais. “She was a champion.
“I loved what she said to the reporters after the race. You could see in her eyes how sad she was, but she said she was the best and that she’d be back. She didn’t get a chance to show she was the best after that, but she showed so much character that day. In my heart, I always felt she won her gold medal that day talking to those journalists.”
Like the rest of the team, St-Gelais got to know the Iceberg rink in Sochi at a World Cup meet there last February. Even if the city was a vast construction site and the weather was hardly wintery at the time, she has no doubt the atmosphere will be electrifying at the Winter Games.
“It was 13 C and the ice was a little soft when we were there,” she said. “Personally, I like winter countries.
“I come from Lac St-Jean (in northeastern Quebec) where we have snow until April and sometimes we’ll even get a snowstorm in May. I like the snow and cold. But we got experience (of warmer weather) in Vancouver and you would hardly call that catastrophic.”