New Olympics boss Marnie McBean knows how to bring attitude. For 2020, she’s championing diversity

For Marnie McBean, being named Canadian chef de mission for the 2020 Summer Olympics is the cherry on a career devoted to sports and mentoring of athletes, writes Rosie DiManno.

By Rosie DiManno Toronto Star Columnist Wed., July 3, 2019

STAR COLUMNISTS OPINION

At the Barcelona Olympics, as I recall, Marnie McBean had a Fan Boys Club of gaga reporters from Canada.

They were all in thrall to the beauteous and sassy rower from Toronto.

Of course, she could have broken every one of their necks with those mesomorphic, ball-busting, oar-driving thighs.

Twenty-seven years later — good golly, 27 years — McBean rolls her eyes when a scribbler reminds her of the gaga adulation. Suggests maybe the sports correspondents merely appreciated her way with a pungent quote. “I’ve never been able to check what comes out of my mouth. Hey, bring Marnie over.”

The female rowers on Team Canada were goddesses. And I hope McBean forgives me for saying so because the discussion at hand is actually how sexist coverage of women athletes has been over the decades.

“Silken was described as a Nordic Valkyrie with the thousand-watt smile.”

Another eye-roll. Silken Laumann, famous for training with men, showed her Iron Man chops by winning bronze at Barcelona in single sculls a mere 10 weeks after suffering horrific injury — fractured fibula — in a boat collision during training.

The conversation around sportswomen, the stereotypes and lazy metaphors, really began to change at those 1992 Games.

“Our group came through and it was super-cool to be reading these articles where they were talking about us being competitive and aggressive,” McBean recalls. “Because that wasn’t how women were covered in sports. We had muscles. It was still being questioned: What was feminine? Now I look at athletes and how proud they are of the physicality. I would say the Canadian extreme is Kallie Humphries.” Two-time Olympic bobsledding champion. “She just loves showing her body and her muscles and how strong she is.”

McBean, now 51, wryly remembers being issued a gender-ID card at the Olympics. At one time, only Princess Anne, an Olympic equestrienne, was permitted to forgo gender testing.

“The needle has moved.”

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I am so happy to share the news! I have been named as Canada’s Chef de Mission for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games

TORONTO, Ont. – Team Canada’s Chef de Mission for the Tokyo 2020 games Marnie McBean poses for a portrait at the Argonauts Rowing Club . Photo by Andrew Lahodynskyj

July 1, 2019

OTTAWA (July 1, 2019) – Toronto native Marnie McBean, one of Canada’s most decorated Olympians, has been named Team Canada’s Chef de Mission for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The Canadian Olympic Committee made the announcement Monday on Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of official Canada Day celebrations.

McBean made two Olympic appearances in rowing where she captured four medals, including three gold, making her one of just two Canadians to be a triple gold medallist at the Summer Games. The other is Kathleen Heddle, McBean’s partner in the coxless pair at Barcelona 1992 and in the double sculls at Atlanta 1996. They were also members of the champion eights crew in Barcelona and won bronze in the quadruple sculls in Atlanta.

McBean says she still is not sure how she was able to accomplish what she did at the Games.

“Looking back, it’s incredible to me that I was able to have so many amazing Olympic moments,” said McBean. “It’s like, how did “someone like me” do that?” 

“At my first Games, I’m not sure which was the bigger asset, the volumes of our training and preparation or the fact that we were young and naive.”

“As Kathleen and I approached our second Games, the expectation that we would win threatened to take away all the joy but we found a way to keep the lead. It’s true that winning never gets easier.”

Over her rowing career, representing Canada from 1987 to 2000, McBean won a total of 12 World and Olympic medals. 

An Officer of the Order of Canada, McBean was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1994 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. She is a recipient of the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal and has been given the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. In 2002, she was presented the Thomas Keller Medal by World Rowing in recognition of her outstanding international career.

Canadian Olympic Committee President Tricia Smith, who is a four-time Olympian and Olympic silver medallist in rowing, says she is delighted for her fellow Rowing Canada Aviron alumnus.

“I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Marnie over the years and have always been amazed by her accomplishments. She is an incredible individual. Since her own sport success, she has been an inspiration and mentor for many of Canada’s athletes, helping them succeed even beyond the field of play. She is a legend in our sport and I know she will be equally as exceptional as Chef de Mission!”

The responsibilities of being Team Canada’s Chef de Mission will not be anything new to McBean. Since retiring from competition in 2000 due to a back injury, she has been an active athlete mentor and advocate.

“In Sydney, when the chance to medal disappeared with a blown disc in my back, I learned more about myself, kindness and the Olympics, than I could otherwise have imagined,” said McBean. “I suppose the door to my becoming a mentor opened right then.”

McBean has worked with the Canadian Olympic Committee in the recent past as a specialist in Olympic Athlete Preparation and Mentoring. Her objective was to prepare athletes emotionally and psychologically to give their best performance possible at the Olympic Games.

“Canadians used to be uncomfortable declaring their confidence on the world stage, and it showed in our performance – we were putting our goals in chalk instead of stone,” said McBean.

“Without arrogance, now Canadians bravely project readiness and our ambitions indelibly in stone. To find that courage, the message I share with elite athletes, school kids and corporations, is that there are no superheroes out there. It’s ordinary people like us, like you, who achieve incredible things.”

While her focus will be performance on the field of play, McBean says one of her main objectives will be to create a safe and welcoming environment for Team Canada to speak openly about their passions outside sport.

“It is our role as the Mission Team to do everything we can so that when an athlete’s Olympic competition begins they are in peak condition. Athletes shouldn’t arrive to their field of play exhausted and stressed from trying to negotiate social and cultural barriers.”

“Our team is going to be a safe and open space for self-expression and dialogue. We make ourselves stronger when we include everyone, consider all perspectives and weigh critical feedback.”

Fifty-six years after hosting the Olympic Games for the first time, the city of Tokyo will welcome the world again from July 24 to August 9, 2020. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Program will feature 33 sports with 339 medal events. More than 11,000 athletes and officials from 206 countries are expected to attend the Games.

MEDIA CONTACT:

Josh Su, Specialist, Public Relations
Canadian Olympic Committee
C: 647-464-4060
E: jsu@olympic.ca 

Meet Special Olympics Team Canada 2019 Honorary Coach: Three-time Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean

An In the Spotlight interview on the Special Olympics Canada website

Marnie McBean with daughter Isabel and a Special Olympics Team Canada athlete.
Marnie McBean and daughter Isabel with Special Olympics Team Canada soccer player George Ricardo.

Canadian rower and three-time Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean has passed on her expertise as an official Team Mentor to Canadian athletes at five Olympic Games and two Pan American Games. 

The Olympic champion is gearing up for her latest leadership role as Honorary Coach for all 109 athletes on Special Olympics Team Canada for the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, taking place in the United Arab Emirates March 14 to 21.

Marnie and daughter Isabel try out some races at Athletics Training Camp.
Marnie McBean and daughter Isabel participate at a Team Canada training camp.

“I really want to bring my experiences of working with generic, high performance athletes and continue that on and pass the same knowledge through to the Special Olympics athletes,” McBean said. “They have the same fears and doubts and confidences that any other athlete I’ve ever worked with has.”

While it’s McBean’s first time as Honorary Coach at the Special Olympics World Games, she’s been involved with the movement since the early 1990s.

According to McBean, once she started to bring home medals from the Olympic Games, she was asked to attend a lot of events – and Special Olympics Canada events were her favourite, because she loved meeting the athletes.

“That sort of interaction always made it just so lovely and real,” she said. “I got to see them and their joy and as much as I was being asked to come and share my medals and my experiences – they were always super quick to share their medals and their experiences too.”

As Honorary Coach, McBean – with 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter Isabel in tow – has visited a number of Special Olympics Team Canada training camps over the past few months to offer words of wisdom as athletes prepare for the world stage.

She’ll also be in Abu Dhabi for the nine-day competition, offering inspiration, insight and, of course, to cheer on the team.

With less than 30 days until World Games kick off, McBean has three main messages for the team:

1. YOU ARE THE ROLE MODELS NOW.

In every speech she’s given so far, McBean assured Team Canada athletes they no longer need to look to the Champions Network – a group of Canadian celebrities and professional athletes, including McBean, who help promote the movement – for inspiration or guidance.“They are becoming their own Champions Network – they are community role models now,” she said.

2. FOCUS ON CONFIDENCE.

“For the last year or more they’ve been working on their competence and looking at all the things they need to do better,” McBean said. 

But now is the time to shift that perspective.

When they arrive in the UAE, Team Canada will look at their competitors and notice everything they’re doing right, she said, so they need to do the same for themselves.

“An ambitious person will always feel that there’s more to do,” she said. “That’s good to think when preparing, but a bad thing to think in the middle of a competition.”

“From now through to the Closing Ceremony, the consistent message will be to focus on our confidence and everything that we’re doing right – because we are prepared.”

3. ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE.

McBean cautioned athletes not to have “blinders” on while in the UAE.

“Have fun and be eyes open and meet people,” she said. “Take in the experience of travelling all the way to Abu Dhabi – there’s a lot to be taken in in a non-sport sense.”