“Bring us back a medal!” »

The phrase is cruelly banal. Launched in a playful tone, without any ulterior motive, it serves as encouragement. And despite all the load of benevolence that these few words can carry, there are not many that horrify Bruny Surin more.

The ex-sprinter, who is the chef de mission of the Canadian delegation for the Olympic Games in Paris in a year, remembers perfectly having heard this wish before the Olympic Games in Atlanta, in 1996. Those during which he certainly won the mythical gold medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay. But also those in which he missed the 100m final, even though he was among the best in the discipline.

Surin accurately remembers the hours leading up to the individual event. His nervousness, but his disgust, above all. “I didn’t like what I was doing. »

In a lengthy interview with La Presse, Surin explains how he “turned” the situation around. How he breathed better afterwards. And why he still hates so much, 27 years later, to hear “bring us a medal”.

“It’s said in a natural way, but when you think about it… Imagine putting yourself in the shoes of the athlete who is told: you have to bring us a medal. »

During his career, and long after his retirement from competition, he has seen too many athletes, in all disciplines, be destroyed by a silver medal. Falling into depression or carrying for years the weight of what they consider a failure.

” It’s stupid ! “drops the 56-year-old man. As aware as he is of the competitive side of elite sport and the irresistible appetite for the podium, he repeats a message as simple as charged to the athletes he meets: “Think of yourself. »

“We all want to win, but we have to make allowances,” he says, referring to the athletes themselves, of course, but also to their coaches, their sports federations… and the public.

He assures that the Canadian Olympic Committee has not established a medal target for Paris. “We want to look at [the performances] as a whole, but not medal by medal. »

Not only does he support this vision “100%”, but he wants to be an ambassador for it. After all, is a victory without panache worth more than a loss after a masterful performance?

He gives the example of his experience as a father, with one of his daughters, who played tennis for a long time.

When she was a child, “I saw her losing a match, crying and not understanding that I was congratulating her,” says Surin.

Exactly one year before the opening ceremony of the Paris Games, Bruny Surin can not stand still.

As chef de mission, he is the spokesperson for the Canadian delegation and travels the country to meet the athletes, to get to know them on an individual basis and to better understand their discipline. He trained with boxers and tried to maintain his balance on a canoe – “I knew it was tough, but not that tough!” »

He also makes himself available to them for advice or mentoring, “as needed”, without replacing their coaches or their usual entourage.

At the heart of troubled years for several Canadian sports federations, some of which have been rocked by abuse scandals, it also makes it a point to ensure that each person evolves in a healthy environment. “Without putting on the hat of the guy who will fix everything, I ask them if they feel listened to, if everything is optimal for them, if they need anything. There is a dialogue taking place. »

His role as head of mission, he has dreamed of for years. He first tried his luck for the London Olympics in 2012. Then for those of 2016, in Rio. Then for those in Tokyo, in 2020, postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This work lives up to his expectations, and even more, he adds. ” I love that ! »

He does not deny the flaws of the Games, the “business” aspect of which, in his own words, has become inevitable. Reports already describe the disgust of Parisians at the scale of the construction sites deployed in the French capital or their despair at the thousands of euros it will cost to rent an apartment for a few nights next summer.

The ex-runner stresses, however, that the majority of the facilities that will be used are already existing, which will avoid leaving white elephants abandoned after the Olympic fortnight. And that the construction of infrastructure involves local businesses. We are far from Qatar which, as the Soccer World Cup approached in 2022, built its stadiums by reducing workers to the state of slaves, he notes.

This does not make France a perfect country, he is told. And he nods. The death of 17-year-old Nahel, shot dead by a police officer, sparked massive protests across the country earlier this summer. The event rekindled old wounds, bringing inequalities and racial tensions back to the fore in a country that prides itself on being the cradle of human rights.

Will Canadian athletes be free to take a stand, if they choose, on any issue they choose? Absolutely, says Surin. The International and Canadian Olympic Committees impose certain rules during the competitions themselves. Otherwise, if a microphone is waved in front of an athlete, no one will muzzle him.

Once the Games begin, his role will be to be a “cheerleader” for the athletes, not a preacher.

He is even more excited that the Paris Games will mark a return to normal after two Olympiads watered down by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Tokyo in 2021, Surin saw athletics world records fall in deserted stadiums. The idea of ​​accompanying athletes to “real” Games is exhausted.

“It’s crazy what’s going to happen here,” he ignites. I have the chance to say to the athletes: you are going to be part of this, part of the show. They are very, very excited. For me, it’s like a gift. You can’t know how much that makes me happy. »

And to repeat, again, “This is going to be crazy. »

Twenty-seven years after Atlanta, Surin no longer wonders why he is there. Never again does he think of turning on his heels on his way to work.

Rather, he goes running.