Catriona Le May Doan named Canada's female athlete of the year

She carried Canada's expectations to the start line then skated away wearing an Olympic gold medal and a black cowboy hat.

Performing under pressure made speed skater Catriona Le May Doan a champion in 2002 and resulted in her winning the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada's female athlete of the year.

The award is named after the late Bobbie Rosenfeld, a multi-sport star who was voted CP's female athlete of the first half of the 20th century.

It's the second consecutive year - and third time since 1998 - that Le May Doan has won the award. The 500-metre world record-holder received 48 of 111 first-place votes and 207 total points from sports editors and broadcasters in balloting conducted by The Canadian Press and Broadcast News.

"I'm really happy and really honoured," said the Saskatoon native who now lives and trains in Calgary.

"These awards, I've had a few people say, 'Do you get tired of it?' - and no, I don't. What a perfect way to top off a year."

Hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser was second with 119 points, ahead of cross-country skier Beckie Scott (115), soccer player Christine Sinclair (64) and speed skater/cyclist Clara Hughes (63).

On Thursday, basketball star Steve Nash of the Dallas Mavericks was named winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada's male athlete of the year.

Le May Doan was a dominating force in long-track speed skating in 2002.

At Salt Lake City in February, she won the 500-metre gold medal to become the first Canadian athlete to defend an individual Olympic title. She won the same race four years earlier in Nagano, Japan.

She also was the world sprint champion and world single-distance champion in 500 metres. Her streak of 20 straight 500-metre wins finally ended when she was second in the final World Cup race of the 2002 season.

Winning the Olympic gold might have been the most difficult race of Le May Doan's career. She was nervous and angry after skating what she thought was a sub-par time of 37.30 seconds in the opening race of the two-day event, even though it set a Games record.

She also knew a country frustrated over the figure skating controversy involving Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and haunted by the disappointing performance of some other athletes was counting on her for Canada's first gold medal of the Games.

"I was stressed, I was angry at myself, I was nervous" said Le May Doan, who was Canada's flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies.

"At the end of that race the first emotion was pure relief. It really hit me afterwards. You realize that everybody was counting on you and supported you."

She celebrated with a victory kiss from husband Bart, who slapped his black cowboy hat on her head.

A deeply religious woman, Le May Doan credits her husband, family and coaches for supporting her throughout her career.

"When everything gets to be too much, they are the ones giving me the confidence," she said. "They are the ones who bring me up and bring me down. You realize you can't do something like this on your own."

Despite skating with a sore back and suffering a frightening fall in training, Le May Doan has opened the World Cup season with a second and third in the 500 metres and a third in the 1,000.

"The back is frustrating," said Le May Doan, who turned 32 two days before Christmas.

"When I'm asking my body to do something and it doesn't do it, it makes me realize what a lot of people go through all the time."

Being named female athlete of the year in a nationwide vote is important to the fluently bilingual Le May Doan.

"I hope people know I represent them whenever I am competing," she said. "To be voted by them is great. It brings us all closer together. It makes an impact on me."

Le May Doan joins figure skater Barbara Ann Scott as the only three-time winner of the CP-BN female athlete award. Golfer Marlene Stewart Streit won the award five times.

"I've accomplished more than I dreamed of accomplishing, that's for sure," said Le May Doan, who also received the 2002 Lou Marsh Trophy, given to Canada's outstanding athlete by the Toronto Star.

"It's not like you start a career saying I want to win 20 World Cup medals then I'm done. You go through the races and see what's next."

With Olympic medals, world records and world championships to her credit, Le May Doan has already written her name in history as one of Canada's most decorated speed skaters. But she hopes her legacy is more than winning races.

"I've had some great results but I don't think that alone makes a great athlete or a great competitor," she said.

"I love going to the competitions and seeing my friends from other countries. I enjoy when I have a great race and my friends are happy for me even if I've beaten them and I'm happy for them even if they've beaten me.

"I hope that's how I'm remembered. I always try to have a good spirit around the oval and try to be positive and encouraging to others."

A look at long-track speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada's female athlete of the year:

Age: 32.

Personal: Born in Saskatoon. Lives and trains in Calgary. Married to Bart Doan. Started speed skating at age 10. Competed in four Winter Olympics.

Olympic Glory: Won 500-metre gold medal at Salt Lake City Olympic. Won 500-metre gold and 1,000-metre bronze at 1998 Olympics in Nagano. First Canadian athlete to defend an individual Olympic title.

Queen of the ice: World sprint and World Cup champion in 500 metres. Had streak of 20 straight 500-metre wins ended when she finished second in the final World Cup race of 2002 season.

World Record: Holds 500-metre world record of 37.22 seconds.