You would be hard-pressed to find someone in the Yukon who has not heard the name Jeane Lassen.
However, the local Olympian was not the only Lassen to travel to China last month on business.
Moira Lassen, Jeane’s mom, attended the Olympic Games as an international technical official and, in the process, became the first woman to be a technical controller for weightlifting in Games history.
Lassen and other woman have been technical controllers at other international competitions, but weightlifting committees often shy away from assigning the role to women.
“It’s really aggressive in the back, so you really have to stand your ground,” said Lassen. “Coaches will try anything to try and trick you and try to gain an advantage.”
In fact, at a world championship in the early 1990s, one female technical controller was reduced to tears from the pressure, thereby making it harder for other women to follow in her footsteps.
“You can’t back down to them, and I guess this woman couldn’t take it,” said Lassen. “She cracked.
“I’ve been a technical controller at many international competitions before the Games, so I’m glad I had that experience to back me up… I just stood really tall and strong and knew that I was in the position of power.”
As a technical controller in both the men’s and women’s events, Lassen worked with a partner to control the flow of athletes to the platform — in the correct order — and to make sure all the rules were obeyed.
One technical controller oversees the warm-up area backstage while the other keeps order onstage. The two then switch duties as the event moves from the snatch portion of the competition to the clean-and-jerk.
“(We’re) making sure that they’re following the rules of how many coaches are allowed with the athletes, the proper competition (clothing is) are being respected, there’s not too many logos on the athlete, that they’re wearing the proper bandages, wraps, belts,” said Lassen.
“You were allowed to show one logo, and it had to be a certain diameter,” she said, describing a common problem she faced.
“If they (also) had the three Adidas stripes on their suit anywhere, we had to put duct tape on them … It started to look a bit like a circus act.”
As the only barrier between an athlete and his/her coach, Lassen occasionally had to operate like a linebacker in a football game.
“I did deal with a lot of injuries on the platform, and that’s the interesting part,” said Lassen. “The coaches want to go up when the athletes injure themselves, to help them. For liability reasons, it obviously had to be the doctor up there only. So we had to stop them from going up, which is a challenge, because you have to almost tackle them to get them down from the stage!”
Lassen is a board member of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sports (CAAWS), an Ottawa based organization devoted to getting more women involved in sports, both as athletes and officials.
As an official at the Games, Lassen was supposed to avoid being captured by the cameras since the focus is on the athletes.
But being a staunch supporter of the CAAWS, Lassen at one point decided to bend the rules.
“We’re supposed to dodge the camera when we can,” said Lassen. “However, I found a complete opportunity … An Iranian weightlifter was on stage and the coaches were standing there — and this is with my CAAWS hat on — and the camera was on the two coaches. And I thought, ‘You know what, this is a country that is not known for their women being in positions of power anywhere, let alone sports.’ So I thought, ‘I’m going to go stand beside them so I’m also seen on the camera in Iran as a female in the position of power.’”
Surprisingly, Lassen did not pass down her interest in weightlifting to her daughter, who finished eighth in the 75-kilogram division at the Games last month.
It was the other way around.
“Yep, she pulled me in,” said Lassen, with a laugh.
Lassen is the president of Yukon Weightlifting and in 2006 was named one of the 20 most influential women in sports by CAAWS.
She also acted as secretary general for Canadian Weightlifting from 2000 to 2008.
“I had announced two years ago that I wouldn’t be running again because I think, in my theory of things, people have to change in order for things within the sport to change,” said Lassen. “And I think eight years was long enough to sit in the volunteer position.”
Until last October, Lassen had worked for Sport Yukon, but then left to help prepare her daughter for the Games.
“Now I’m just reassessing things,” said Lassen, speaking of her career plans. “I’ll figure it out in the next couple weeks.”
Next month, Lassen will be heading to Pune, India to officiate at the Commonwealth Youth Games.
They will be the first Youth Games that Canada will be participating in.