When the bar, loaded with 135 kilograms, refused to do Canadian weightlifter Christine Girard’s bidding, she left the Olympic stage at London’s vast ExCel complex devastated, convinced she’d played out the same frustrating scenario as Beijing: 4th place, just shy of the podium.
A few minutes earlier Tuesday, she hefted 133kg over her head in the clean and jerk, more than twice her own precisely measured 62.87kg weight. Before she went out for her final lift, her husband, Walter Bailey, an RCMP member who doubles as a coach, told her she’d needed to heft 135 kg. She assumed that was just to get on the podium. Bailey, looking for silver, didn’t disabuse her of the notion.
Such details are on a need-to-know basis, Bailey said later. “Her job is to go and lift the bar.” So, stymied by 135kg, she walked off devastated, until Bailey held up three fingers. Then it hit her: her previous lift was enough for third place, behind gold medalist Maiya Maneza of Kazakhstan and Svetlana Tsarukaeva of Russia.
With that bronze, she became the first Canadian woman to ever win a medal in the sport.
We now know that very tough and strong weightlifters sometimes cry. And dance around like a kid in the playground. And wrap themselves in the flag, if the occasion calls for it. And it did. And even RCMP members cry. “A little,” says Bailey. “I’m a cop, right? It’s my job to mask my emotions.
It’s been quite a journey for the 27-year-old Girard. She was born to francophone parents in Elliot Lake, Ont., She moved to Rouyn-Noranda, in northwestern Que., where she started to heft weights at age 10—and then three years ago to White Rock, in coastal, B.C., when her husband was transferred to the nearby Richmond detachment.
After her medal, a reporter asked in French if she considered herself a Quebecker or an Ontarian. She waved her hands in reply, the nails painted, alternate pinkies, in red and white. Canadian to the tips of her fingers.
Women’s weightlifting has modest roots in Canada. Now she hopes more girls and women will join the sport, even though her parents Aline and Gaetan, had urged to her take up anything but such a lonely, unglamorous pursuit.
“I still have a lot of people who think that I’ll look like a big man with super big muscles,” she says. “I want people to see that weightlifters are normal people.” Normal, and a petite five-foot-three, with a cute, gap-toothed smile.
But for her team of coaches, her hubby and Guy Marineau, offering advice from Montreal, it can be a lonely business. The lesson she took from Beijing was to work harder and smarter. So, when she moved to White Rock, her parents packed their tools in their vehicle and drove cross-country. Over 10 days, they transformed her garage into a fully equipped workout gym. “If you’re too tall,” she says with a laugh, “you don’t fit in my garage.”
What with the medal ceremony and press conference, she had yet to see her parents, who cheered her on from the stands. She wants to thank them yet again from all they’ve done. And for her little gym. “My Dad, “ she says with pride, “he can do anything.”
But can he lift 133kg over his head, I ask.
“No,” she said with that smile again, “but I’m sure he’s happy that I can.”