When Jeane Lassen accepted a $50,000 cheque from Pelly Construction in early April, she knew what she wanted to do with it.
The Whitehorse weightlifter is determined to finish her training for the Beijing Olympics here in her hometown — so she created her own training camp, with a top coach and, maybe, a few fellow national team athletes training together.
“I’ve always done better up here — even if I’m alone,” said Lassen during a morning training session at Better Bodies on Tuesday. “It’s even better to be here with teammates.”
While Lassen practises lifts with the barbell, increasing the weight each time, coach Guy Greavette looks on with a careful eye.
Greavette competed for Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and is committed to helping Lassen prepare for her Olympic shot.
“The support Jeane has up here is great,” said Greavette, who left his Kelowna home and family for the summer to help Lassen with her training. That’s where the money comes in.
As much as he loves the sport, Greavette said, he can’t afford to coach for free.
National team member Jasvir Singh has arrived from Vancouver to train as well.
Although Whitehorse is off the beaten track for the sport, Greavette and Singh are glad to be here.
“It’s kind of a sacrifice to come up, but it’s good for my weightlifting,” said Singh. “In Vancouver, I have to work 10 hours everyday (in construction), and then drive 45 minutes to the gym. There’s no stress here, I just focus on the training.”
“I live five minutes from the gym,” said Lassen, who currently works out three times a day.
“In Montreal, you can spend three hours a day on the train … things are more compact here.”
Getting away from distractions, and focusing on the work is key for the athletes.
Lassen left Montreal, the Canadian weightlifting hub, behind a year ago to train at home. Her only regret is that she didn’t do it sooner, she said.
In Montreal, weighlifting is popular and well-funded, but both Singh and Greavette have good things to say about the Lions Weightlifting Club in Surrey, BC, where Singh trains.
A group of top-level Indian coaches have immigrated, established themselves, and a healthy scene of young Indo-Canadian lifters is emerging in the Lower Mainland.
Singh’s own road to the Beijing Olympics is quite a bit longer; he started weightlifting in 1994, in Punjab, northern India — he competed for India internationally before moving to Canada.
He won many competitions here as a “guest lifter” — including the Canadian championship in 2006, before becoming a citizen last year.
Once he qualified, the national team signed him right away.
He’s hoping for a top-10 finish in Beijing.
Canada is sending five weightlifters to Beijing, two men and three women — the biggest contingent since the 1984 Los Angeles games.
It’s also the first time Canada has sent more than one woman.
Lassen is Canada’s best shot for a medal, but all the women are strong.
The men’s team isn’t expected to medal.
Greavette said it’s amazing that Canada has produced so many good lifters without much in the way of funding or organization at the national level.
“I don’t think it’s by design, we’re lucky to have some good athletes right now,” he said.
With three months to go before Beijing, Lassen and Singh are focused on training, staying healthy and peaking at the right time.
Lassen is pumped, and at the same time, nonchalant about her Olympic shot.
“In some ways it’s just another weightlifting competition — like I’ve been doing since I was 13… but then there’s all the fear, excitement, stress and worry — no one’s exempt from those emotions.”
This weekend the pair of Yukon-based lifters, and their coach will head to La Prairie, outside Montreal, for the Canadian National Championships, the last competition before Beijing.
Although the competition won’t make-or-break either Lassen or Singh’s Olympic chances, the opportunity to compete is always welcome.
“There’s very little glory in this sport,” said Lassen. “You spend so much time training, thousands of lifts, just to prepare for three … in that sense, every competition is important.”
Fellow Whitehorse weightlifter Emily Quarton, who still trains in Montreal, is another story — a good performance this weekend could put her on the Olympic team as well.
“She’s the underdog right now, but that’s the best place to be,” said Lassen.
“She knows exactly what she needs to do. She’s done the training, now she just has to do it in competition.”
If Quarton manages to clinch the remaining spot, that would put two Yukoners in a worldwide field of 90 female weightlifters at the Games.
“That’s beyond crazy,” said Lassen.
Whitehorse sports psychologist Tracey Bilsky is heading to the nationals this weekend to work with the athletes.
Messages of good luck and support for Emily Quarton’s Olympic bid can be sent along with Bilsky by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org