For nearly two decades, Canadian ski legends Kerrin Lee-Gartner and Nancy Greene had been trying to connect for a round of golf.
When their schedules finally meshed last September, at Pinebrook Golf and Country Club, Lee-Gartner's home course west of Calgary, the underdog Olympic champion rose to the occasion. Lee-Gartner shot a 72 - her first career round under par.
"I have that scorecard," she said. "And it's attested by Nancy Greene."
Lee-Gartner, now 42 and a "full-time mom with a whole bunch of part-time jobs," lives with husband Max Gartner, Alpine Canada's chief athletics officer, and two teenage daughters, both of them junior racers. She owns Canada's only gold medal in the Olympic downhill, alpine's most prestigious discipline, and will be working with the BBC at the 2010 Winter Olympics, broadcasting women's races from Whistler Creekside.
Lee-Gartner, a CBC analyst, approached Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, the partnership between CTV Inc. and Rogers Media Inc., but was turned down.
"I really wanted to speak to a Canadian audience," she said. "But they felt I had been at the CBC too long."
The consortium tagged Rogers Sportsnet analyst Brian Stemmle, and broadcast rookies Karen Percy-Lowe, a double bronze medalist at the 1988 Calgary Games, and Cary Mullen, a former Olympian, for its booth. They will join play-by-play man Gerry Dobson.
Lee-Gartner, who entered broadcasting after retiring in 1994, jokingly offered to learn an English accent for the BBC, but was instructed to treat the telecast like a home Games.
"They wanted me to very Canadian, and very Kerrin," she said. "I think it's intriguing to them to have a local."
She meticulously inspects every course, and says her broadcast style involves putting herself in the racer's boots and "feeling what they're doing." That means Lee-Gartner's voice rides with every bump and jump, but it also means she anticipates danger before the camera, often with some emotional acoustics.
"The whole control room gets a kick out of me with some of the noises," she said. "They love the squeals."
Lee-Gartner won at the 1992 Games in Albertville, the biggest victory in a nine-year career that netted six World Cup podiums and seven knee operations. She was known for her nerve and her turns, a mix that would prevail on the treacherous Méribel downhill, nicknamed the Iron Rock and considered among the most difficult in Olympic history.
"I don't know if I really, truly had the hunger to be the best," she said. "I didn't need that, except at the Olympics."
Today, golf fills the competitive outlet for the little racer from Red Mountain, who competed in a Nancy Greene Ski League and grew up just two doors down from her hero's childhood home in Rossland, B.C. Lee-Gartner began playing golf at age 20 because it helped her mental approach to skiing, and she has become a five-handicap despite playing just 30 rounds a year.
She has also become re-acquainted with the roots of her first sport through daughters Riana, 14, and Stephanie, 12. The girls are on the Fernie Alpine Ski Team (FAST), where both Lee-Gartner and her husband volunteer. Max Gartner coaches, while Lee-Gartner does whatever is required, from gate-keeping to setting up safety nets.
She sits on the FAST and Telus (Calgary) community boards, has travelled to Mexico and India doing charity work, and raises funds for Project Safety, a program she founded that examines all safety elements of ski racing, from avalanches to mouth-guards.
Lee-Gartner said she rarely re-lives her gold medal-winning run, partly because the moments after the finish line are hard to remember. But she predicts she won't be the country's only Olympic downhill champion for much longer, and believes Canada will have many contenders, male and female, on home snow next February.
"It's really quite odd," she said of her legacy. "We are a nation of downhillers."