Interview with Chandra Crawford

Chandra Crawford (Simon Pierre Barrette, Wikimedia Commons)

Canadian Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford of Canmore, Alberta will be inducted in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary this fall. She will become the sixth cross-country skier in the history of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame to be inducted as she will follow Herman Smith-Johannsen of Piedmont, Quebec (1982), Canadian Olympic gold medalist Beckie Scott of Vegreville, Alberta (2007), Pierre Harvey of Rimouski, Quebec (2014), and sisters Sharon Anne Firth and Shirley Firth of Aklavik, Northwest Territories (2015). Crawford is best known for winning a gold medal in the women’s cross country skiing sprint at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin. Here is my recent interview with Chandra Crawford.

Q: How meaningful is it for you to be inducted in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame?

A: “This is a pretty special honour. It is a nod to the work of girls in sports. For sure!”

Q: You were one of three Canadian women in the 2000’s to have outstanding cross-country skiing success. What can you tell me about Sara Renner and Beckie Scott?

A: “I was very fortunate to have Sara Renner and Beckie Scott leading the way as role models. They broke down the barriers. Canadians had a hard time succeeding in Nordic skiing because we had to battle the geographic distance and the Scandinavians with their rich cross-country skiing culture. By the time I came on to the scene, it was a given that Canadians were so strong. Their performances inspired me so much. They were larger in life. I was nervous to ask them questions because they were my heroes. Overtime, I got less and less nervous. I saw them eat oatmeal. I eat oatmeal. We waxed skis similarly. They are humans as well as heroes, and to normalize their exceptional and incredible performances was critical for what I was trying to achieve.

I hope I can do the same thing with “Fast and Female” (organization Crawford founded in 2005). I hope kids get to see heroic athletes and say, ‘wow, I didn’t know Kaillie Humphries was bullied as a kid and isolated in her sport.’ It is very inspiring for kids to see an athlete in person and realize they are normal, extraordinary people.”

Q: Looking back at your gold medal from the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, what do you remember most?

A: “I remember most the focus I had on my skiing and what I was doing. I wasn’t chasing a medal. I was trying to get top 10, so I could get on to the next tour which would go to Asia. Wouldn’t you like to eat all that cool food? I did. I loved the travel. That is how I got so hooked on cross country skiing. I remember on that day, I had an epiphany in a blue port a potty. I was going to the bathroom for the millionth time before the race and I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘this was just practice for 2010, Chandra’. Then I snapped out of it and said, ‘today is the day, you never know how many chances you are going to get.’

I became totally focused with every fibre of my being on my opportunity. I got to the startline. I was waiting for the gun to go off and the eerie silence that is so important for the start of the race. It was a beautiful moment. I was smiling so I could try and stay loose. When the gun went off, I had an amazing race. There was so much adrenaline and so much focus on every stride of being the best I could possibly be. I was in the moment, and didn’t realize I was going to win until I crossed the finish line. That was nuts! I was so surprised!”

Q: From the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, you were considered the most surprising Canadian Olympic gold medalist. In fact you could be on the list for the most surprising Canadian Olympic gold medalist of all-time. When someone says that, what is your reaction?

A: “That is dead true. Some of the headlines were indicative of just how much of a darkhorse I was. One of them said ‘Out of the Blue Thunderbolt’ and another said ‘Colossal X-Country Upset’. It was amazing. It was part of my advantage. I was so ‘in the moment’. No one had interviewed me and asked ‘do you want to win a gold for Canada?’ Pure was a good word to describe my dedication, focus and stride. What happened was amazing. There were so many little things that added up. I was the only female cross-country skier who specialized in skate sprinting at the time. All the other women had done everything. They were more tired. Every time they were racing, I was practicing on that one track. I was fortunately terrible at the other distances. I was not like the other racers and had to put all the eggs in one basket. By the time I was a teenager, I didn’t really have the endurance, but could really smoke them on a short distance.”

Q: Is there anything you did on the day you won Olympic gold in Torino that you never did before?

A: “I don’t think so. I think I used my age old tricks that no one would notice. That included drafting, tactics and passing on a downhill. Sara Renner explained in my retirement video that I was one of the only females employing tactics. That was surprising. Then I heard her say that, I thought it was true. The female racers at the time were just so strong and were trying to win every single metre. I wasn’t able to do that because I wasn’t as strong, so I had to use tactics, to control the pace, so I could have my little acceleration. If the fast girls burned off my sprint, I didn’t have a chance. So if I had to keep up with them, there was no sprint left. If I could make it slow and then fast, I could make a jump on it.”

Q: You excelled in the sprint events in cross-country skiing compared to the middle distance and long distance events. What are the biggest challenges cross-country skiers face when competing in a 1.1 km race?

A: “It is a wild race because there is a qualification against the clock, then a quarterfinal, semifinal and final. There is an endurance component there as well. The main challenge with that race format is that the stakes are so high with the little bumps and jostles. You really cannot recover from the smallest mistake.

The reason why they invented the race was to make cross country skiing more exciting. I was so glad they made our sport more exciting. Before 2002, it was like they told us to go out into the woods and come out later, and we will tell you who won. It became an event that was great and the spectators would really want to watch.”

Q: Your sister Rosanna has become a high performance biathlete. This past winter she won a World Cup biathlon bronze medal in Germany. How special has it been for you to see your sister reach international success?

A: “I am overjoyed about my sister’s historic medal performance and I know that over the decades to come she will appreciate it more and more. She is still in the thick of training and motivating herself, and working so hard, she can barely enjoy her accomplishment. Having retired myself, I can say it is nice and enjoy the medals a bit. Rosanna is so focused, determined and strong and an incredible athlete. She is only the third Canadian woman ever to win a World Cup medal in biathlon. To shoot all 20 targets is amazing. This is the hardest sport by far. She is a darn good shooter.”

Q: You are president and founder of the Fast and Female program. What can you tell me about the program?

A: “We try to empower the next generation of female leaders by encouraging them in sports. We have hundreds of elite athletes and volunteers who come out and help us in “Fast and Female.” I don’t do it alone. I can barely empower my way through a paper bag without my whole team helping me. We have a lot of athletes throughout North America who work really hard and dedicate their time. I am fortunate that we have been able to put on dozens of events across Canada because the athletes are so dedicated.”


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