Nathalie Lambert is a highly competitive person who truly understands what an athlete must do in order to achieve Olympic success. While she posses the physical attributes of an athlete – she doesn’t consider herself a “natural”. In addition to the physical demands of training for competition at an elite level, Nathalie also learned the necessity of mental preparation for Olympic competition. She learned the hard way; not winning major competitions where she was highly favoured and expected to win. “There are so many distractions and pressures on the highly ranked athletes that they sometimes don’t win. I had the same problem before learning how to deal with it.”

Having overcome this psychological obstacle during her career as an elite competitor, Nathalie is ideally suited to be our Chef de Mission for Canada’s Olympic Team in Vancouver, providing mentorship for our athletes in addition to the myriad responsibilities as Canada’s Official Spokesperson at the games.

Nathalie grew up in the Plateau long before it became trendy. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mother was pretty good at stretching a dollar.” In the euphoric wake of the ’76 Montreal Olympics, an indoor ice rink was built across the street from the family’s home. “My best friend and I decided to give speed skating a try. First – it wasn’t expensive and they even provided the skates.” Ideal for a family with limited financial resources. Nathalie’s mother was involved in organizing, fundraising and even transportation. “We needed a driver to get to the competitions – so my Mom volunteered.”

“Speed skating is a grass roots sport all through the province. It’s a sport where everyone competes, regardless of your level of ability. There aren’t a lot of clubs in Montreal, so in order to compete, the team travelled to other part of the province.” The travel aspect of the sport was important to a young girl from the Plateau. “Imagine – me, a thirteen year-old girl from the Plateau traveling to places like Baie Comeau and Chicoutimi. It was exciting and my friends and I had a great time.”

The travel was fine – but Nathalie wanted to do more than compete; she wanted to win. While Nathalie specialized in long track events, she also gained experience in short track by virtue of the available training facilities. “There weren’t a lot of long track training facilities, so from August to September we trained on inside rinks.

We moved outside when the weather was cold enough to freeze the long track rinks.” Nathalie continued to develop, and the trips to competitions expanded to Regina, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon.

By 1981 Nathalie had earned a place on the National Team. “Speed skating was relatively new internationally, and Canada was a power within the sport. To make our National Team meant that you were already one of the best in the world.”

The national team hired Yves Nadeau as the Coach in 1982. While new to speed skating, Nadeau was already a veteran coach, having worked with Olympic athletes competing in kayaking. “He knew how to motivate us to achieve. He valued effort and determination; and he saw that in me.”

Nathalie flourished under Nadeau’s coaching. In ’83 she switched to short track racing. It was a good decision, and she finished third in the World Championships in ’84 and 85; and subsequently moving up to 2nd place in ’86 and ’87. Her successes were recognized in Canada with Nathalie being named Female Athlete of the Year in 1986 by Speed Skating Canada. Speed Skating was scheduled as a demonstration sport for the 1988 Olympics, and Nathalie was one of the best in the world.

Surprisingly, Nathalie finished out of the medals in her events, and won a Bronze as part of the relay team. “I cried a lot – I was crushed.” Nathalie wasn’t injured and there didn’t seem to be an explanation. “My coach suggested that I see a doctor. It turned out that I was severely anaemic.” Continuing, Nathalie explains; “This was before all the science we have surrounding athletes today. I trained so hard that I was creating small tears in my muscles, which caused a loss of iron in my system. Coupled with a poor diet, I became anaemic.”

With an improved diet, Nathalie was confident that she would be able to finally achieve that elusive world championship. She was winning all of her competitions. But – at the World Championships she placed a disappointing 4th and 5th. “This started to really hurt me. I had been trying for 15 years and it still hadn’t happened.”

“My coach helped me to analyze what I was doing right; and what I could improve.” There came a somewhat startling discovery. “I wasn’t what you’d call a natural athlete. I had to work really hard to train and compete, and just considered that competition had to be hard too.” Nathalie’s coach suggested that she shift her focus – that she approach the ‘big’ races with confidence. “He suggested that I stop being so hard on myself.”

It worked…. Nathalie and her coach had successfully identified the problem. It wasn’t physical, it wasn’t her execution – it was fine-tuning her mental approach to the race. She deserved to be there – had earned her place and she could win. And win she did! In 1991 Nathalie Lambert from the Plateau in Montreal won the World Championship – an incredible 17 years after she set her mind to it. It was an amazing testament to her perseverance, her character and her sheer strength of will power.

“That was the beginning of the good years.” The next year in Albertville, Nathalie stood on the podium with her relay team – each wearing a Gold Olympic Medal. In ’93 she won again in the World Championships. The Lillehammer Olympics in ’94 would be perhaps her most satisfying.

“I fell in the 500 meters, but raced again in the 1000 meters two days later. I decided to go out to the front and lead the pack – setting a pace that would be hard on the others. I stayed ahead until the last lap. Unfortunately, I was passed, but it was really close at the finish line. I fought really hard to stay in front and then to regain the lead on that last lap. In a way I’m more proud of that Silver medal than my Gold for the ’92 relay; because I did it myself.” Continuing, Nathalie explains; “I could have let somebody else lead – but then I might have been jostled or interfered with by another skater – and not even finished. I’d do it the same way given the choice.”

Nathalie retired from racing after the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, but her competitive spirit brought her out of retirement in 1996, and she set her sights on competing in the ’98 Nagano Olympics. In November ’97; just months before the games were to begin, Nathalie fell during a competition in The Netherlands. Her ankle was broken in two places. “I knew that was it. The decision was made for me.”

While still recuperating in a Netherlands hospital, Nathalie was contacted by Radio Canada, offering her press accreditation to do television coverage of the Nagano Olympics – now beyond reach. “By the time the games opened, I was providing coverage for Radio Canada radio, television and LaPresse.” Her second career had begun.

After the Olympics, RDS contracted with Nathalie to cover Amateur Sports. The MAA (Montreal Athletic Association) asked her to look after their sales and marketing. Putting her Physical Education degree to good use in combination with her telegenic features, Nathalie has produced a best selling fitness DVD, Le Plaisir de Bouger.

The Canadian Olympic Committee recognized that Nathalie is a skilled and articulate communicator, and enlisted her aid in helping athletes. As an Olympic medalist, she has credibility with the competitors, and is an excellent mentor. She served as Assistant Chef de Mission during the Athens Olympics in 2004. She acquitted herself admirably as a resource person for the athletes and also as Official Spokesperson for the team. Nathalie has been appointed to the prestigious position Chef de Mission for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Something Nathalie hadn’t planned for was developing Osteoarthritis. “It came from my training during the 80s. Our training was all about quantity, a lot of weights; a lot of hard skating and severe over use of the joints. We didn’t really know the consequences.” Nathalie’s desire to compete enabled her to over-ride the pain. “I was pushing it too much, although the pain was more in training. I didn’t experience much pain when I was skating in competitions.” Incredibly, Nathalie was winning Olympic medals and World Championships while dealing with the onset of Osteoarthritis.

Nathalie’s incredible muscle tone provided support for her deteriorating knee joints. Quite literally, her leg muscles were holding the joints together, providing support. After her retirement from competition, her loss of muscle mass reduced that support. She has required total knee reconstruction in both legs. “I can’t bend my knees, and so I maintain my fitness using a variety of exercises that don’t require bending my knees – or impact.” My prescription medication enables me to live a pretty normal life.”

Nathalie and Daniel, her husband of 10 years have two adopted daughters, 7 1/2 and 6 1/2; and like all children, it takes energy to keep up with them.

“I agreed to become the spokesperson for The Arthritis Society because I’ve experienced Arthritis myself. The research they sponsor is important for so many Canadians who have to deal with the many forms of Arthritis.” The funding for research is vital. “When a person’s mobility is restricted, other health issues soon follow; reduced circulation, reduced lung capacity, gradually reducing a person’s overall health.”

As the Winter Olympics draw near, Nathalie is commuting every other week to the Olympic headquarters in Vancouver or the training facilities in Calgary; alternating with her marketing responsibilities at the Montreal Athletic Association (MAA). It’s a gruelling schedule of long days, short nights and trans-continental air travel. It’s made easier with the high level of fitness she maintains. Nathalie Lambert is a passionate competitor who is eager to lead the Canadian Team in Vancouver. Our athletes are truly fortunate to have her.

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