Susan Auch helped put Canada on the map as a powerhouse in speed skating, representing Canada at the 1988, 1992, 1994, and 1998 Olympics. Auch won bronze as part of the 3000m relay team at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, and individual silver medals in the 500m at both the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer and 1998 Olympics in Nagano. Now a member of the board of Speed Skating Canada, Auch continues to make a lasting impact both in sport and in the community.
With the 2017 Canada Summer Games approaching, we sat down with the former Olympian to discuss how her experiences competing at the 1983 Canada Winter Games in Saguenay-Lac St. Jean helped position her for future success.
What was it like to train in Winnipeg at the Sargent Park Oval?
When I started speed skating, they had just torn down the building where skaters would tie their skates, so we had to tie our skates under the bleachers, so it could be cold but it also was an adventure. We had a fantastic coach who encouraged skaters to commit to the sport. We had hot chocolate at the end of every session, and sometimes we had to shovel the ice off ourselves. It was a really fun experience, and it certainly was exciting when the Rec Centre building was finished construction and we finally got to go inside.
How would you compare your experience to athletes who are training in Winnipeg today?
Well some of the things are the same, and they have the ongoing use of the building and facilities there. However, once today’s athletes graduate to the developmental or national level of competition, they tend to move to Calgary to continue their training. I wish there was a way for us to keep them in Manitoba, and offer them that kind of opportunity in our province. I fully believe that since the skaters coming from Winnipeg have to battle the cold, the wind, and the snow, they are challenged to excel under difficult conditions and is part of why they are so strong and they do well nationally.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience at the 1983 Canada Games?
Well, the Games experience was different then compared to now, but I just loved it. It was a bit like going to a camp, and that experience of feeling nervous and trying to do my best at the highest level of competition I had ever experienced was very valuable. I'd say that's the case for most Canada Games athletes, and I surprised myself by winning two gold medals, which helped propel me on my way to an Olympic future. I look at those Games as the first stepping stone to everything that I did after that.
How did it feel to win those medals representing Manitoba at the Canada Games?
I think it's important to keep things in perspective. For me, it was the same feeling I had when I won my first individual medal at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer. It was just an immense feeling of pride and personal accomplishment.
How did your experience at the Canada Games prepare you for future competitions on the national and international stage?
Regular competitions might happen every weekend, whereas the Canada Games come once every four years. That can be a lot of pressure to compete under. For me, it prepared me for high-level multisport competition. When I went to the Olympic Games in Calgary, that was another experience entirely, but learning how to seize that opportunity that only comes once every four years, that's something I took away from the 1983 Canada Games.
How important is it for you to continue to contribute to the sport and the next generation of Canadian athletes?
I think that it's my duty – I was given enormous opportunities by Canada and Manitoba to reach the highest level of competition in my sport, and now it's my job to find some ways to give youth more of those kinds of opportunities.