Skip to main content

Former Olympian Jean-Luc Brassard (currently assistant chef de mission freestyle skiing-moguls) making remarks during a press event on Oct 30 2013.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

One of Jean-Luc Brassard's most memorable moments of the Sochi Olympics came in the hours long after an event, in a darkened, empty stadium.

The Olympic moguls champion was consoling an athlete and his family after a disappointing performance.

"Seeing in their eyes the disappointment that they had, and trying to find the right words, knowing that you don't try to hide the truth, you try just to digest that moment," Brassard said. "And then you tell them that in a few days, or maybe the following day, you will remember the entire process that brought you there. So much fun and great memories.

"It's not only about a single result, it's about the entire process to become an Olympian."

Brassard was named Canada's chef de mission Thursday for the 2016 Rio Olympics. His experience in Sochi, as an assistant to Canadian chef Steve Podborski, convinced him that no matter the sport, winter or summer, an Olympian is an Olympian.

"They speak the same language, it's an Olympian language," Brassard said. "And at the end of the day, that made me agree to go for Rio, even if it's a summer Games. It's not so much about the technicality of the sports. There's no more liaison between a bobsleigh guy and a short-track skater, than a bobsleigh guy and a 100-metre runner."

Brassard competed in four Olympic Games, capturing gold in 1994 in Lillehammer to become Canada's first ever male Olympic champion in skiing. Four years later, he carried Canada's flag into the opening ceremonies of the 1998 Nagano Olympics, where he finished fourth.

He capped his Olympic career at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Canadian Olympic Committee made the announcement at Brazilian-themed restaurant in Montreal.

The native of Grand-Ile, Que., spent most of the Sochi Games at the Krasnaya Polyana mountain cluster of venues, "where I kind of belonged."

"It was great to remember my past, as an athlete, to try to apply that to find the right words to talk to the actual athletes," he said in a phone interview. "The great thing at the time is I think I had no desire to be an athlete anymore, it's long gone for me, in my mind. That case is done.

"But I still want to help the young kids, and I want them to have the opportunity to feel exactly the great feeling that I experienced when I was an athlete, so I tried to find the right words to talk to them. And surprisingly, you don't really take care of the winners, because communications grabs them after the race and they reappear the next morning after they went through all the media. But you spend a lot of time with the people that didn't achieve the result that they wanted."

Since the two-time world champion retired in 2002, he's been a "full-on freelancer," working as a television host, commentator, and writing articles on skiing and mountaineering.

He said feels the same thrill watching Canadian athletes compete as he did when he stepped into the moguls starting gate.

"I'm way more emotional," he said. "I don't have a child, but I can imagine it's a bit like how a parent looks at their child. You really wonder how a kid can achieve something so amazing, being by himself on the top of the run, and they have to do the job. And at an age that most students are in school, they don't even know what they're going to do in life. The only thing that they care is having a beer at night with their friends. But you're asking these athletes to make the performance of their life.

"I get very very emotional. Every time that I see one of these athletes at the bottom, stepping up on the podium, it brings tears to my eyes. I had the chance in my life to be successful and to feel that, and I'm totally thrilled for them now when they can do it too.

"And I know that they're going to be amazing role models after that. I'm at an age where I find that this is important too."

One of Brassard's first tasks will be getting to know some of Canada's summer athletes. Some 200 of them will gather next week in Gatineau, Que., as part of a pre-Rio symposium.

"I don't want to walk into the place in my big boots, saying 'Hey, here I am.' I want to do that very slowly," he said.

He'll then choose an assistant chef for the Games, which run Aug. 5-21, 2016.

Mark Tewksbury was chef de mission of the Canadian team at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.