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The Hero Returns
Kenny Moore
January 27, 1988
Canada's Gaetan Boucher, who won gold in Sarajevo, wants to repeat his triumph for the home folks
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January 27, 1988

The Hero Returns

Canada's Gaetan Boucher, who won gold in Sarajevo, wants to repeat his triumph for the home folks

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He had studied marketing for a year at Montreal University, so it was no surprise that he was soon doing endorsements for Texaco and Canada's Dairy Bureau. In 1985, in Davos, Switzerland, he turned in what was then history's second-best time for the 1,000—1:12.74. Five months later, under an arch of gleaming skate blades, he married Karin Fliege of West Germany. (Their first son, Jean-François, recently put blades to ice for the first time, a month before his second birthday.) The life had turned very good. Even Boucher seemed contented. "I feel less pressure to continue," he said. "If skating isn't going so well, I will be able to drop it."

He would find otherwise. Later in 1985, he began to lose control over his left skate. At first he thought it a flaw that had crept into his technique. But video analysis showed instability—the ligaments injured in 1983 weren't holding the ankle together. Scar tissue was forming around the joint. The ankle grew swollen and weak.

"We tried everything," Boucher says. "Taping, orthotics, moving the skate blades around. Off the ice I could do everything I'd ever done. Only on the blade did I feel the weakness." For two seasons he raced terribly, finishing 15th overall in the 1987 World Sprints. Yet he recoiled from retirement. "The bad races were for a reason," he says. "Not because of age or mental decline, but because of the injury. I always thought I could overcome it."

Just in time he discovered Dr. Hans Wilhelm Müller Wohlfahrt, chief orthopedist for the Bayern München soccer team, who subjected Boucher to an exotic set of treatments involving X-rays, lasers and injections to regenerate the ligaments and clear away scar tissue. "This summer I could see the swelling going down, feel the ankle strengthening," says Boucher.

He augmented it with his usual astounding training. Boucher, who's 5'7" and 160 pounds, thinks nothing of doing 30 squats with 360 pounds on his back. "It's actually fun," he says, "because you can see improvement. I like it a lot better than cycling. It's boring holding my pulse at 80 per cent of maximum for two hours."

Boucher has always lived life to its painful hilt. Only the winning has been missing of late. Now—he did a 1:14 for the 1,000 in a time trial in November, 1½ seconds faster than at Sarajevo—it may be back.

The Calgary oval will allow Olympic speed skating to be held indoors for the first time, and the ice and air will be tuned to ideal temperatures. All the Olympic records should be destroyed. Boucher believes the winner of the 500 can take half a second from Nick Thometz's world record of 36.55. "The winning time in the 1,000 could be 1:11, maybe less," says Boucher.

Again he'll probably be seeded to start late. Again he'll know what he has to do. "I will not be there unless I have a chance to win," he says. "I don't want to get 10th just to say I skated in four Olympics." Unquestionably, he will skate well. Crossing the line, the pain will be all through him, and he will have won or lost. And the life will be over.

He has always known this would come. "You can't expect your family to arrange their lives for your training forever," he says. But he acknowledges, too, that he will face an adjustment such as he has never known. The new life will be accompanied by an elemental ache, that of withdrawing from old, fierce standards. "I think some part of me will always hate to watch," he says, "knowing I used to beat them all."

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