Celebration of Canada’s best overshadowed by Olympic controversy

Canada's Kim Boutin, of Sherbrooke, Que., celebrates after winning bronze in the women's 1500-metre short-track speedskating at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

PYEONCHANG, South Korea – Without a doubt short-track speedskater Kim Boutin has been among Canada’s best stories of the Olympics, a 23-year-old emerging as a three-time medallist while displaying admirable courage and sportsmanship after receiving threatening messages on social media.

In naming her flag-bearer for Sunday’s closing ceremonies, the Canadian Olympic Committee made an inspired choice. Yet instead of fully celebrating one the country’s most accomplished athletes at these Games, the COC instead obfuscated about some shameful behaviour in Pyeongchang before members of its team apologized for it late Saturday.

Chris Overholt, chief executive officer of the committee, said in a statement that South Korean police had released ski cross racer Dave Duncan, his wife Maja and Willy Raine, Alpine Canada’s athletic director, ski cross after "they concluded their investigation."

Local media reports and the CBC tied them to an alleged car theft with the driver far above the country’s legal blood-alcohol level of 0.05. According to the CBC, Daegwallyeong police allege that Raine was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.16.

Overholt offered no specifics of the allegations nor whether they will face charges, but all three expressed remorse in statements.

"We are deeply sorry," Duncan and his wife said in a joint release. "We engaged in behaviour that demonstrated poor judgement and was not up to the standards expected of us as members of the Canadian Olympic team or as Canadians."

Said Raine: "I would like to apologize profusely for my inexcusable actions. Words are not enough to express how sorry I am. I have let my teammates, friends and my family down. I would also like to apologize to the owner of the vehicle that was involved."

Earlier in the day, speaking at a news conference to unveil Boutin as flag-bearer, Overholt explained that Canadian athletes sign an agreement before participating in the Olympics that includes clauses on "appropriate codes of conduct" as well as the COC’s "expectation that we have of not just of our athletes but our coaches and all of us that are here representing Canada adhere to."

What potential consequences those who violate the agreement face is unclear, with Overholt offering only that "each situation is different, so to speculate on circumstances and what outcomes would be is inappropriate. We have processes in place to make sure all parties are respected."

He added that the COC has lawyers on the ground, is in contact with authorities and that the Canadian embassy is involved. That any of it was necessary was an embarrassment amid what has been the country’s most productive Winter Games.

Snowboarder Sebastien Toutant’s gold in the men’s big air event Saturday was the 500th medal Canada has won in both Winter and Summer Olympics, and combined with the men’s hockey team winning the bronze Saturday night, the country’s Winter Games record total stretched to 29 medals.

Boutin played a big part in building up that total, starting with a bronze medal in the women’s 500 awarded when South Korean skater Choi Minjeong was disqualified. The threatening messages on social media came afterwards and she so feared for her safety before racing in the women’s 1,500 a few days later, she cried after coming off the ice from warmups.

Still, she settled herself and ended up winning a second bronze in that race, saying afterwards that in the days between races, "I hugged Choi because I think it is really important to continue to enjoy what we do and be strong together."

It was an act true to Olympic ideals that didn’t get the notice it deserved.

Boutin then helped the women’s 3,000-metre relay team claim a bronze that was negated by her mistakenly entering the lane as a non-competing skater, but she recovered to add silver in the women’s 1,000 a few days later.

What a whirlwind.

"It was really hard to put words on those emotions, because I had a lot," she said. "At one moment I was really scared for my security, but people around told me that I didn’t have to care about that because everything was in control. After that I was trying to be happy about my medal, because I thought it was a big challenge in the 500. …

"And when I received a medal that was really special, because I was alone on this big stand and I felt weird because I had so much emotion, so I couldn’t put the word on which emotion. But it was a mix of scared and angry and happy.

"After that I just turned a page and I understood that everything was in control."

During the initial period of fear she was surrounded by her teammates, including veteran Marianne St-Gelais, her roommate in Pyeongchang, and supported by the wider Canadian squad.

It was an example of some of the best Canada had to show the world.

Then Duncan, a 35-year-old from London, Ont., and Raine offered up something much different, a blemish on a Games performance for the country to otherwise be very proud of.

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