November 07, 2008

Last Words

Sylvie Bernier

What I would have said to the distinguished guests, last Saturday Night, if anybody had asked me:

There are a lot of former chefs de mission and chefs de mission adjoints here in the room tonight. If I attempted to name them all, I am sure I would miss some, so I will not try. But you all know that the list includes some very illustrious names, and it is humbling to be here tonight as one of them. In that way, tonight reminds me of my very first experience as the Assistant Chef de Mission for the Beijing Olympic team.

Almost exactly two years ago, Sylvie and I attended the 2006 Beijing Olympic Excellence Series together. At the opening session, Sylvie planned to introduce me to the athletes in attendance. She carefully collected and wrote down my credentials so that she could tell the audience all about me. And while Caroline was driving us both up to Collingwood, Sylvie helpfully reminded me that this would be my first chance to make a good impression on the team. I think she may have been a bit nervous, since we did not really know each other very well at the time.

So that evening, I had my chance to say a few words … and make a good first impression. In the lineup of speakers that night, however, I am fairly certain that I was completely invisible. Of course I had to follow Olympic champion Sylvie Bernier, who gave me a very nice introduction. When I was finished making my carefully crafted remarks, I passed the microphone to three-time Olympic champion Marnie McBean, who then introduced the keynote speaker for the night … Olympic champion Mark Tewksbury. And after Mark finished, the session wrap-up was done by Olympic champion Anne Ottenbrite. I am pretty sure that I did not succeed in making much of an impression at all!

In the two years since then, Sylvie, I have learned a lot from you. And I have also learned a lot about you. People who have worked with Sylvie probably know that there are a few rules that you have to follow. Sylvie’s husband Gilles is here tonight, and I suspect he would say that there are a lot of rules you have to follow! But there is one rule that I would like to share with all of you, for future reference, and I call it The First Rule of Working With Sylvie. The First Rule of Working With Sylvie is: do not speak after Sylvie! She is a very, very tough act to follow, as I have found out on a number of occasions. If, in the future, any of you have to share a stage with her, you should try very hard to arrange it so that you speak before her, as I have done tonight.

I am sure that tonight Sylvie is going to tell you, when she comes up here, about our experience in Beijing, the incredible Mission Team assembled by the COC, and the athletes who make all of the hard work worthwhile. Undoubtedly she will express my own thoughts and feelings better than I can do it myself, and by the time she is finished with you, you will not remember anything I had to say anyway. It would not be the first time!

So let me, instead, say just a few words about Sylvie, because that is one thing I am sure she will not talk about. All of the chefs and the assistant chefs in the audience, and those who are not here tonight, set the standard and laid the foundation for our work in Beijing. At times I was struck by the thought that I was standing on the shoulders of so many great contributors to the Olympic movement in Canada. But I want to say tonight that Sylvie Bernier has again raised that standard, and strengthened that foundation. Future Canadian chefs, beginning in 2010 with Nathalie Lambert, will have a lot to live up to.

I am grateful for the opportunity, tonight, to give Sylvie a public thank you. Sylvie, I am very proud to have worked with you for the past two years. Thank you again for giving me the chance. I hope that I lived up to your expectations, and to your example.

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