Le May Doan captures second straight Canadian Sport Awards

Catriona Le May Doan's last few weeks have been full of emotional highs and lows, and she rarely glided around a speed-skating oval without a tissue tucked in her pocket.

Le May Doan won Tuesday night the 30th annual Canadian Sport Award as 2002 female athlete of the year in what could be a fitting finale to her sparkling speed skating career. After nearly a decade of dominating the international oval, Le May Doan is pondering retirement.

"I don't go many places without Kleenex in my pocket or my purse," said Le May Doan. "Especially being in Europe and saying a lot of goodbyes and finishing the season off there, and just really celebrating everything with a lot of people. It's been emotional and it's been great."

Le May Doan, a native of Saskatoon who now trains in Calgary, became the first Canadian to repeat as Olympic champion, winning her second gold medal in the 500 metres at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

"I'm just going to take a few weeks and unwind and settle down and make some decisions," she said about any decision to retire.

Le May Doan has struggled with a back injury this year, but said it was still a season to remember.

"It's been a season where I've sat back and really taken every single experience and just really cherished it," said Le May Doan. "I think I just need a bit of time to continue to cherish it and make some decisions."

Le May Doan and husband Bart Doan are eager to start a family, but no matter what her future holds, she said, she'll stay involved in the sport. She said helping out younger skaters this past season on trips abroad eased her fears that she wouldn't again find the same thrill she gets blazing around the oval.

"That made the decision less scary," said Le May Doan.

Cyclist Roland Green collected male athlete-of-the-year honours at the gala ceremony, while figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were named pair of the year.

Le May Doan, Greene, Sale and Pelletier all won their respective awards last year.

Green, from Victoria, raced to gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, and the 2002 world mountain bike championships.

Sale, from Red Deer, Alta., and Pelletier from Sayabec, Que., won gold at the Salt Lake Olympics with grace after finding themselves at the centre of a judging controversy.

Almost a year after their gold-medal performances at the Olympic Games, the Canadian hockey squads earned male and female teams of the year.

"It's different than when you look at NHL Stanley Cup," said Canadian Hockey Association president Bob Nicholson, who accepted the award on behalf of the men's team. "(The players) were in the dressing room by themselves and really cherished the moment.

"It was quiet, they were proud, looking at and holding the medal. It was very, very special."

Geraldine Heaney, who retired from hockey after Salt Lake, said the gold was a dream come true after losing to the Americans at the 1998 Olympics, and after the tumultuous months leading up to Salt Lake.

"The struggles that we went through the whole year, losing eight (games) to the Americans, and all the adversity that we had gone through made the win so much better," said Heaney.

Women's hockey coach Daniele Sauvageau of Montreal was named coach of the year.

"I step down as a head coach, but I'm always going to be a coach and follow what's going on in the sport across the country," said Sauvageau, who returned to her job as a police officer after Salt Lake. "I was very privileged to help these players, they brought me a lot, and helped me a lot."

Sauvageau was asked if there's a chance she'd be back at the helm of the women's team.

"You never know," she said. "I didn't say no, and goodbye to coaching, so we'll see."

The event, held at the downtown CBC building, was hosted by Ron MacLean, who wasted no time before cracking a joke about his troubles over the last couple of days. MacLean and CBC's Hockey Night in Canada co-host Don Cherry argued on Saturday's Coach's Corner about the war in Iraq, prompting a flood of angry e-mails to CBC.

MacLean took the stage after synchronized skating group Black Ice performed.

"It's great to see somebody else in the CBC building that's been iced," said MacLean, to laughter.

Alexandre Despatie was named junior male athlete of the year. The native of Laval, Que., was a triple gold medallist at the 2002 FINA world junior diving championships, and collected double gold at the Commonwealth Games in the one- and three-metre springboard events.

Jennifer Spalding of Vancouver earned female junior athlete of the year. Spalding won the ISAF world youth and Canadian youth sailing championships.

The athlete winners won $1,000 each.

In other awards, Ian Bird, vice-president of Athletes CAN and chief executive officer of the ESTEEM Team Association won the athlete leadership award.

Jim Thompson, who died last August, less than six months into his job as the Canadian Olympic Committee president, won the leadership in sports award posthumously. His wife Sheila accepted the award in an emotional moment of the night.

Dick Pound, member of both the International and Canadian Olympic Committees won the volunteer achievement award.

Simon Ibell of Victoria, an advocate for people with disabilities, won for the Spirit of Sport story of the year. Ibell completed a 10-day, 300-kilometre bike ride the length of Vancouver Island to raise awareness for muchopolysacharridosis - MPS - a rare genetic condition he has.

Fraser Drad of Stonewall, Man., won the Spirit of Sport Inspired Youth award.

Winners in the athlete categories were selected from a list of nominees using input from a panel of athletes, media representatives and coaches as well as complex formula developed by consulting firm KPMG.