Olympic champion weightlifter Christine Girard named Pan Am Games chef de mission

Holding true to her values eventually brought Christine Girard to the top of the podium.

She intends to take that quality with her to Santiago, Chile, where Girard will lead Canada’s team as chef de mission at the 2023 Pan American Games.

The Canadian Olympic Committee announced Girard’s appointment Thursday in Montreal.

She became Canada’s first Olympic champion in weightlifting when her bronze medal in 2012 in London was upgraded to gold six years later.

When more than 1,500 Olympic drug tests from Beijing in 2008 and London were retested in 2016, the two competitors ahead of her in the 63-kilogram class in London were stripped of their medals because they tested positive for banned substances.

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Girard was also promoted from fourth in Beijing to bronze in the redistribution of medals.

She received her medals in December, 2018.

“I think it says quite a bit of my values, and what is important for me,” Girard told The Canadian Press. “It’s not just what we do, but how we do it, and how we stay true to ourselves.

“When I received my medals, my reallocation of medals for me, it felt like it was the whole country that was winning. It’s our values that brought me those medals.

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“I wanted to become chef de mission because I felt like it was time for me to give back.”

The Pan American Games open Oct. 20 and close Nov. 5 followed by the Parapan Am Games Nov. 17-26.

The Pan Am/Parapan Games held every quadrennial the year before the Summer Olympics and Paralympics make Santiago’s multi-sport games a dress rehearsal for Paris in 2024.

A dozen sports in Santiago are also Olympic qualifiers for Paris.

Chile will host the Pan American Games for the first time with an expected 7,000 athletes from 41 countries competing in 39 sports.

Canada sent a team of 477 athletes to the 2019 Pan Ams in Lima, Peru, where they won 152 medals, including 35 gold.

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Girard represented Canada in three Pan Am Games starting in 2003 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

She claimed silver in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and gold four years later in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“My first Pan Am Games was probably the first time I wore the COC logo,” Girard recalled. “I was the youngest on the team. Seeing other weightlifters get ready for the Olympics — the qualification was at the Pan Ams — how they moved, how they eat, how they train, I remember learning so much in my first experience.

“I’m from a small town. I trained alone in a carport, garage, basement. Coming together at the Games was such an important learning curve for me, a place of validation and feeling connected to a team that’s much bigger.”

The 38-year-old from Rouyn-Noranda, Que., lives in Gatineau, Que., with her husband and RCMP officer Walter Bailey and their three children all under the age of eight.

Girard recently finished a master’s degree in occupational therapy, and she’s continued to work in the area of drug-free sport.

She trains doping control officers and is an ambassador for the International Testing Agency.

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She’s also on the International Weightlifting Federation’s anti-doping committee and serves on the board of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports.

“I’ve been involved in the fight to promote clean sport,” she said. “I’m glad to be back with a role that’s more direct to athletes.”

Girard was invited to be on Canada’s mission staff for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but the delay of those Games until 2021 because of COVID-19 conflicted with her occupational therapy studies.

She works in an Ottawa private clinic in mental health, which Girard believes gives her another tool in her chef de mission tool box for Santiago.

“It’s not really well known that occupational therapists do mental health, but I help people on long-term disability return to work,” Girard explained.

“It’s basically like coaching, but the goal is not competing, but returning to work.”

“I feel like I have a lot more tools than I had as an athlete. Not only do I come with my sport experience, but I also come with my professional experience that will most likely be helpful there.”

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