Speed skater Boucher breaks Canada's golden duck
Somewhat surprisingly, up until 1984 no Canadian male competitor had ever won an individual gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games. Speed skater Gaétan Boucher broke his country’s duck at the Sarajevo Games in 1984 in spectacular style, leaving with two gold medals and a bronze.
Born in Charlesbourg, Quebec in 1958, Boucher began his athletic career as an ice hockey player and took lessons in speed skating to improve his game. But he soon found he was spending more time on perfecting his skating than working at this hockey game and switched to the ice track.
Boucher progressed rapidly, his narrow features seemingly chiseled by nature to let him slice through the air at 40mph. In 1972 at the age of 15 he won his first tournament, the Canadian National Junior Championship, and four years later he made his Olympic debut at Innsbruck in Austria, finishing in sixth place in the 1,000m, and setting a Games record for good measure.
Four years later at Lake Placid, he improved on that result by finishing second to legendary US skater Eric Heiden in the 1,000m. It was of little comfort to the fiercely competitive Boucher that he had lost out to a gifted skater on his way to a remarkable clean sweep of all five races.
That year, Boucher again placed second to Heiden at the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships – but when his American rival and close friend retired it was expected that the talented youngster would follow in his skate tracks and take his place at the zenith of the sport.
However, fate intervened, and an ankle break and illness hampered Boucher in the 1983 season. He finished ninth in the world standings.
But he fought back bravely from his setback to record a string of victories in the run-up to Sarajevo. When the XIV Olympic Winter Games came round, Boucher, Canada’s flagbearer at the opening ceremony, was the man to beat.
He didn’t get off to a promising start. Racing in the 500m, he finished third to collect a bronze medal. But he picked himself up and at last won not one but two cherished gold medals, in the 1,000m and 1,500m races – making him the only Canadian to win three medals at a single Olympic Games, a record that stood until another speed skater, Cindy Klassen, broke it in 2006.
He returned home to a hero’s welcome and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Knight of the National Order of Quebec.
Boucher went on to defeat his Soviet rival in Sarajevo, Sergei Khlebnikov, to be crowned world sprint champion. In total he won six world championship events from 1981 to 1985, before retiring shortly after the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. Since then he was worked as a broadcaster and designed skates.