Although men have competed in the biathlon at the Olympics for many years, women did not compete until the early 1990s. Canadian Myriam Bedard won some of the first Olympic medals given in the biathlon, which is a combination of cross-country skiing and marksmanship with a .22-calibre rifle that is measured by time and accuracy. (Missed targets add time to the score or length to the course.) When Bedard won two gold medals at the 1994Winter Olympics, it marked the first time a Canadian woman had won two gold medals in one game. She was also the first North American to win a World Championship in the biathlon.
Myriam Bedard was born on December 22, 1969, one of four children born to Pierre and Francine Bedard. Her father was an electrician, while her mother was a child-care worker. Bedard was a very athletic child, playing basketball, doing gymnastics, and, more seriously,
training as a figure skater. She skated from age six to age 12, but her family could not afford the kind of coaching she needed so she quit.
Introduced to Biathlon
When Bedard was 14 years old, she joined the Canadian Army cadets with a group of friends. It was there that she learned to shoot. She put this skill to work in 1985 when she was asked to be part of a mixed relay team race at the regional cadet winter games. Bedard was teamed with three men and played with borrowed equipment. Though she did not know how to cross-country ski, her shooting skills were superior. Her team won the race, and Bedard found a new sport.
Although Bedard's parents did not support her at first, she could compete because the cadets provided equipment while she was part of the group. In 1986, she used her own money so she could compete in the sport without the cadets. Bedard's first order of business was learning to ski. Though it was initially difficult, she joined a cross-country ski club and loved it. She told Hal Quinn of Maclean's, "I love the challenge. While physically demanding, it is such a mental sport. You must study each course and plan every part of the race ahead of time." Bedard proved to have much natural ability, though this did not guarantee success as a biathlete. Winning a biathlon is unpredictable because it depends on the weather and how the athlete feels on that day, both mentally and physically.
Won First Championships
Within a short time, Bedard was doing well at women's biathlon competitions. In 1987, she won a first and a second at the first Canadian Junior Biathlon competition. In 1988, she won a Canadian junior title, two North American championship races, and had a first and second in Canada Cup tests. Bedard competed at the World Junior Championship in 1989, finishing fourth in sprints. She also won a Canadian senior title that year.
Bedard's experiences at the worlds in 1989, more than anything else, proved to her how much harder she had to train. Part of the problem was that she did not own her own rifle until 1989, which was an expensive $2700. By this time, her training became supported by an annual grant of $7000 from Sport Canada. She also had a job in public relations for a real estate company, Le Permanent, and an endorsement deal with Duofold for long underwear.
With training Bedard improved her fitness, especially in her upper body. She was of very small stature compared to most who competed in the sport, standing only five feet, three inches tall and 115 lbs. Her ace in the hole came for her uncommon ability to recover every second stride. Bedard also had an odd shooting style that seemed to work in her favor; shooting on instinct, she did not pause to steady herself before making a shot.
Won Big Competitions
The training paid off when, in 1991, Bedard won a World Cup Biathlon gold medal. In the 1991 biathlon season, she won medals in five of six competitions, including two golds, two silvers, and one bronze. Bedard finished the season ranked second overall, the highest ranking ever for a biathlete from North America. She was often used to promote the sport for women in Canada.
The first women's biathlon events at the Winter Olympic Games were held at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. Bedard represented Canada in both the 7.5-km and 15-km races, and as part of a team event for three women on the 7.5-km course. She was expected to medal, as she was still ranked number two in the world, but some questioned if she had participated in enough races that season to win. Bedard also faced tremendous pressure, primarily from Team Canada's coaches and officials, which made it tough on her. Despite the problems, Bedard pulled it together to win bronze in the 15-km event.
These perceived failures at the Olympics gave Bedard new goals. She told Christine Rivet of the Ottawa Citizen, "For me, (keeping motivated) will be easy. I know what my goals are. I know I have to improve my skiing. I know in shooting, I'm OK. I want to have the best skiing time in the world. I'm almost there."
Problems still remained for Bedard. Funding was an issue, until her agent negotiated a partnership deal with Metropolitan Life. The deal funded her training and offered the promise of a job after her retirement. This deal allowed Bedard to buy her own custom rifle. She trained hard (six days a week, 11 months a year) on her own with her own staff, including non-Canadian coaches in some areas. Bedard's independence made for a strained relationship with Biathlon Canada, but she was the best in the country at this point.
Bedard bounced back to do well in the 1993 season. At the World Biathlon Championship, she won gold medal in the 7.5-km race and silver in the 15 km. She became the first North American to accomplish this goal. She finished the season placed second in World Cup standings. In her training, she worked hard to increase her aerobic skills and strength, so she would peak for the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
Won Olympic Gold
At the 1994 Olympics, Bedard finally fulfilled her promise, winning gold medals in both the 15-km race and in the 7.5-km event. This marked the first time a Canadian woman won two gold medals at the Winter Olympics. Bedard's second gold, in the 7.5-km event, was even won on two different skis. After the Olympics, she competed in the World Cup, winning silver in the 15-km event.
In the spring of 1994, Bedard received some bad news when her two-year deal with Metropolitan Life expired without renewal. This happened because of a rift between the company and her agent, Jean-Marc St. Pierre. Still, Bedard was named the Canadian Female Athlete of the Year. She also married Jean Paquet in the spring, and gave birth to her daughter, Maude, in December.
The birth of her child only slowed Bedard down temporarily. She found another sponsorship deal, a three-year pact with Canadian National Railways. Bedard also had other, smaller endorsement deals as well. She trained to be ready for some events in March during the 1995 biathlon season, but did not do well.
Could Not Return to Form
For several years, Bedard fought to be one of the best biathletes, but she could not match the times she had posted before giving birth. Her endurance had changed. In 1997, she finished 28th in a World Cup Biathlon event, her best finish in years.
In trying to prepare for the 1998 Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan, Bedard over-trained for the 1997 season. She consulted doctors and was found to have hypothyroidism and a number of severe food allergies. To regain her health, Bedard had to account for her new medication and diet in her training. In December 1997 World Cup competition, Bedard finished 15th in the 15-km event, her best results since 1994.
Competed at Nagano
As the Olympics grew closer, Bedard believed she was regaining her form, until she suffered a lower back injury in early 1998. She wanted to compete, though she did not need to do so for a living. She told Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette, "I'm a competitor, a perfectionist. Every race I do I really want to do well. I'm not satisfied just being here. With all I've been through the past few years, this is the way I probably should feel. But I don't. It's against my nature."
|1969||Born on December 22|
|1985||Competes in first biathlon, a mixed relay team race|
|1986||Buys her own equipment to compete in biathlon|
|1992||Competes in Winter Olympics|
|1994||Sponsorship contract with Metropolitan Life is not renewed; marries Jean Paquet in March; daughter Maude is born on December 22|
|1995||Signs sponsorship deal with Canadian National Railways|
|1997||Is diagnosed with hypothyroidism|
|1998||Finishes 33rd in the 7.5-km event and 50th in the 15-km at the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan; switches to long-track speed skating, leaving biathlon behind|
|1999||Competes in first race as a speed skater, at the Canadian Long-track Sprint Championship; competes in last biathlon at the World Cup|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1987||Won first and second Canadian Junior Biathlon Championship|
|1988||Won first at Canadian Junior Biathlon Championship; won two North American championship races; won first and second at Canada Cup tests|
|1989||Won Canadian Senior Championship; competed in World Junior Championship, finishing fourth in a sprint|
|1991||Won gold medal at the World Cup Biathlon; won medals in five of six biathlon competitions; finished biathlon season ranked second overall|
|1992||Won bronze in 15-km event at Winter Olympics in Albertville, France|
|1993||Won gold and silver at the World Biathlon Championship; placed second in World Cup standings|
|1994||Won gold medals in the 7.5-km and 15-km event at the Winter Olympics, Lillehammer, Norway; won silver in the 15-km event at the World Cup; won Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada's female athlete of the year; won Lou Marsh Trophy as Canadian athlete of the year; awarded the Meritorious Service Cross|
|1995||Received the Velm Springstead Award for being athlete of the year in 1994|
|2001||Received Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee|
In Nagano, Bedard was one of the oldest competitors in the women's biathlon. She finished 33rd in the 7.5-km event and 50th in the 15-km event. Although after the Olympics she said she would still compete, Bedard's last event in biathlon was in March 1999, a World Cup event that was on the Val Cartier military base where she first learned the sport. As Stubbs wrote in the Montreal Gazette, "Bedard sees only straight ahead, enjoying life without benefit of a rear-view. And it's plain to see she has discovered something that pleases her every bit as much as did biathlon when she came to it as a teenaged army cadet, wearing rented, ill-fitting equipment."
Where Is She Now?
In the summer of 1998, Bedard decided to quit biathlon and become a long track speed skater. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, other Canadian athletes suggested that she might be good at speed skating. She competed for the first time during that summer. Bedard had planned to train for two years to see how well she could do, and if she could make the national team. While she had great strength and endurance because of her biathlon training, Bedard needed to improve her mental fitness and her speed skating technique. While she raced in the 500, 1500, and 3000 meter races at the Canadian Long Track Sprint Championship in 1999, it was decided that 3000 would be her best racing option. After years of training as a biathlete, Bedard enjoyed the reduced training of speed skating.
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Sketch by A. Petruso
"Bedard, Myriam." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bedard-myriam
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