A champion through and through

A champion through and through

It has been more than 25 years since Gaétan Boucher laced up his skates for a competition. The last time was in 1997 during an exhibition event in Calgary. Despite the years, the champion’s DNA is still in him.

The Canadian speed skating pioneer has never lost a race at the World Allround Masters Games, either in Quebec City in 1996 or in Berlin, Germany the following year.

“But that was eight years after the end of my career. I was still physically strong and stronger than the other skaters my age,” recalls the man who will compete next weekend at the Center de glaces de Québec among the 65-69 year olds, because “it’s the age on 30. June and I will be 65 years old in May.

“If I win the 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m I will definitely work hard not to lose the 3,000m! But it will be difficult,” he admits modestly.

clap skates

He met on Thursday at the inner ring that bears his name, in the Sainte-Foy neighborhood after training in which he achieved his best 400m of the year without forcing himself too much, Boucher ran with fluidity and strength.

For the two-time Olympic champion, this is not a matter of course.

Age, prolonged inactivity, physical condition, but also equipment play a role, skates have changed over time. They are now equipped with clapper board.

“It’s more unstable,” notes the Charlesbourg native in the Capitale-Nationale. We used to slide with the heel to keep the front of the blade from penetrating the ice, while now we slide with the toe.

“It’s an adjustment that’s done well if you go slow. I’ve spent 30 years skating a certain way, and when I try to go fast, the old way comes back. But I’m concentrating and it’s slowly getting better. »

Not easy for a technician like Gaétan Boucher.

A rating of 1 out of 10

As he did when he was a member of the national team, the skating legend keeps track of his achievements.

“In my first race of the year, I technically gave myself a 1 out of 10. There was a lot of nervousness, like it had been a long time since I skated, and a lot of people wanted to see me. I was just trying to walk fast. It really was a zero,” says Boucher with honesty and Olympic calm.

“Despite everything, it gave me the second best time in the world [dans sa catégorie]. I was disappointed but told myself that this time I managed to run poorly. It was a bit of confidence that came. When I skate like in training, technically better, I get faster. Last week I had the fastest 1000m time in the world. Focusing on control and technique I have no reason to be nervous. »

Some aspects are like riding a bike and must not be forgotten.

“The weight shift, the power, the thrust, it’s going well. It looks like what I used to do. It’s not gone. »

Valuable advice

In his preparation, Boucher can count on the advice of friends such as Benoît Lamarche, former teammate at the Sarajevo and Calgary Games, François Drolet, who took part in the Nagano Games, or long-track national team coach Gregor Jelonek.

A camaraderie that the four-time Olympic champion missed.

“I missed the group life with teammates. We go cycling, we have dinner. We’re a good gang. I also have a bit of the same thing with my golf buddies in the Montreal area. When I was skating, we were together 24 hours a day for six months…”


Boucher also rediscovers sensations that made him vibrate in the past.

“The adrenaline, the taste for speed… to take a corner at 50 km/h […], you gotta be in control. It’s the fun. And there’s the taste of outdoing yourself physically. On ice I get what I pay for! It’s fun to come back, to have a workout routine. It’s difficult, but I missed it,” summarizes the former Olympian.

“I know I have a chance to win”

Gaétan Boucher and Alain Huot (right) had a good laugh while warming up on stationary bikes on Thursday.

Photo Stevens LeBlanc

Gaétan Boucher and Alain Huot (right) had a good laugh while warming up on stationary bikes on Thursday.

Gaétan Boucher knows all eyes will be on him next weekend. The Olympic champion will be the man to beat at the World All-Around Masters Games.

“For someone who’s never been to the Olympics and finds himself in a category with a winner, that has to be extra motivation,” Boucher acknowledges. I have this pressure. But I like skating and I’m very proud. »

And the media attention he has received in recent weeks also weighs heavily on his shoulders.

“But the pressure I put on myself all the time. People say it’s important to take part, but I’d like to win. I know I have a chance to win, he says confidently. If I had realized in November or December that I could only get 8th or 10th, I’m not sure I would have signed up. »

Finally healthy

Despite knee problems, Boucher began considering a return to skating when construction of an indoor ring in Quebec was announced.

“If the ring had been there before then I wouldn’t have stopped, I would have stayed in touch [avec mon sport]. But coming to skate in extreme conditions, too cold, too windy, dirty ice because of the boulevard next door, that didn’t appeal to me. »

However, two years ago he began training on the outer ice ring of the Plains of Abraham. Then it moved to the new ice center, which opened at the end of summer 2021.

But a heart problem slowed his preparation. He couldn’t go all out. However, when a 90% blocked artery was uncovered last August, he was finally able to open the machine.

“I was advised not to compete until February!” laughs Boucher. I told the cardiologist that the championships would be at the end of January. He told me it would be fine for a couple of weeks but to be careful. »

Boisbriand Quebec

We see him talking to Alain Huot near the ice surface.

Photo Stevens LeBlanc

We see him talking to Alain Huot near the ice surface.

Since September, the resident of Boisbriand has been making his way to ice skating in Quebec every week from Thursday to Saturday and sometimes to Sunday.

But the CEO of a company that manages a sports complex on Montreal’s North Shore is finding all of that travel tiring.

“Sometimes I get on the elevator and I don’t know which floor I’m on because I keep changing seats. »

It’s just a start

Despite the pitfalls, Boucher still has a passion for his sport and would love to continue training and competing.

“I want to continue, I want to train hard this summer. I’ve lost about 10 pounds since the beginning of the summer. I skate good, better and better and faster. I don’t want that to go away. I want to enjoy it while I can. But we start the competition next week! »

Gaétan Boucher’s best results

Olympic games

  • 6th over 1000 m in Innsbruck 1976
  • 1980 silver in the 1000m at Lake Placid
  • Gold in the 1000m and 1500m and bronze in the 500m in Sarajevo 1984
  • 5th 1000m in Calgary in 1988

Sprint World Championships

  • gold in 1984
  • Silver 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1985

Short Track World Championship

  • Gold 1977 and 1980 (cumulative)
  • Silver 1976 (cumulative), 1977 (500 m and 1000 m), 1981 (cumulative) and 1982 (cumulative)

Sources: Olympique.ca and ShorttrackOnLine.info

►Access to the World Masters Games of All-Distance Speed​​Skating, taking place next Friday through Sunday at the Center de glaces de Québec, is free. The event will welcome 130 athletes aged between 30 and 88 from eight countries.