Love, Canadian Style
Another golden Valentine's Day for Catriona LeMay Doan?
Canadian speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan and her husband, Bart, have a tradition during her races. Each time Catriona skates, she listens for Bart's voice halfway down the backstraight. "He's my marker," Catriona says. "I pass Bart, and I know I'm on." Having set the last six world records at 500 meters, the defending world and Olympic champ -- who stands first after yesterday's preliminaries -- should be able to keep another tradition, one she started on Feb. 14 in Nagano: celebrating with Bart after winning a gold medal on Valentine's Day.
In 1990, two years after Catriona moved to Calgary, Bart, a local rodeo star who is never far from his cowboy hat, got a job as an ice technician at the Olympic Oval there, a position he still holds. If you go by sporting folklore, he is the luckiest guy in Canada, the quintessential Everyman who won the heart of a princess by waving at her from atop a Zamboni. Bart recalls their first meeting: "I drove by, and she yelled, 'Hey, turn the radio up.' I thought, Wow, she actually talked to me."
He waited for months to ask her out on a date, to Nick's Steakhouse. Catriona showed up with two girlfriends who chatted and laughed through the meal as Bart became increasingly tense and tongue-tied. "I thought, O.K., that was a disaster. I'm ruined." Turns out it was just the start. On New Year's Day in 1995 Bart proposed by leaving a ring on a Christmas-tree branch. His wife has since become a national heroine, known for her toothpaste-ad smile, squeaky-clean image and classic Canadian modesty. Her face adorns cereal boxes and magazine covers nationwide. Bart recalls the day in 1998 when Wayne Gretzky gave Catriona a peck on the cheek after she dropped a ceremonial puck at a game in Toronto. "I was so jealous," Bart says with a straight face. "When I met Wayne Gretzky, all he did was shake my hand."
Mindful that Catriona still has to skate the 1,000 meters on Sunday, Bart says he has no elaborate plans for a Valentine's surprise tonight, except for a meal of local Angus beef and a bouquet at the table. "No fanfare," he says. "Just time with each other. That's perfect."
They swooped into Park City with their sleek black unitards and swishing blonde ponytails and, as usual, took care of business: Germany's Sylke Otto, the 32-year-old world champion, and Silke Kraushaar, the 31-year-old 1998 gold medalist, finished first and third in yesterday's women's luge finals. Their teammate, Barbara Niedernhuber, Nagano's silver medalist, split the duo to take second again and complete a German sweep.
The smooth-sliding Sylke and Silke may be homonymous, but they're hardly homogenous. Sylke's uncanny sled control makes her the world's best slider, while Silke has the most explosive start in the business. Sylke is known for staying composed under pressure; Silke is the more emotional of the two. Chemnitz native Sylke has a poodle; Silke, who is from Sonneberg, has a Doberman.
Roommates on the World Cup circuit -- "we're as close as teammates can be," says Kraushaar -- they're fierce rivals on the ice. "Our competition starts in summer and goes through the season," says Kraushaar, who has swapped the No. 1 world ranking with Otto for the past three years.
They are carrying on a national tradition. Germans have won 24 of the 33 Olympic women's luge medals awarded and have taken first at every World Cup event since 1997. How have the Germans come to so dominate luge? For one, the sport is accessible -- Germany has four luge tracks. (The U.S. has two.) Plus, national team lugers receive jobs from the government, which helps fund the sport.
When asked whether Silke, Sylke and Niedernhuber are Germany's best luge squad ever, coach Thomas Schwab laughs and says, "We've got three better ones waiting at home for the next Olympics."