Charline Labonté has one advantage over the other Olympic rookies that are part of the 2006 national women’s team. She has already trained at the Olympics. She has already lived in the athletes’ village. She has already taken part in a gold medal celebration. That being said, Labonté took part in her first Olympic game on Sunday against Russia.
Undoubtedly disappointed in 2002 when the coaches informed her that she would be the substitute goaltender in Salt Lake City, the young woman who hails from Boisbriand, Quebec now admits that it was probably the right decision.
“When I went, I was 19 years old. I was just getting there… It was really new and I was the youngster on the team. It was really good for me. I don’t think that I was ready to play. It was my first time trying out for the team. Just the fact of being there, of having the chance to see it all… the opening and closing ceremonies – it was really impressive. I was truly happy of having gone through that in order to be ready because there are so many distractions around us. So, it will be one less. I will not let myself be impressed as much as when I was 19.”
“There is so much pressure. Half the stands are filled with journalists. I think that I got prepared because of that. I simply want to play my game as if it was any other game, just like I’m used to.”
Since 2002, Labonté has cracked the lineup, getting the nod as one of two goalies for the 2005 World Championship. And it is an experience on which she can rely while getting ready to face the Olympic challenge for the first time.
“A World Championship, for me, I had been trying to make the team for five years. It took a long time before I made it. For me, it gave me confidence. “Look, you’re here. You made the team.” I deserved to be there, I worked hard for it. The World Championship and the Olympic games are seen differently for sure, but deep down, it comes down to the same thing. It was certainly a super experience last year when I got to play in the semi-final.”
And now, she can dream of a true Olympic celebration. But it will not be ‘unknown territory’. Labonté’s eyes still sparkle when she remembers the last moments of the final game in Salt Lake City.
“We were in the stands, way, way up there. We started running down when there were approximately two minutes left. And I was with Ryan (Jankowski, video coach) in his small (video) room, watching a small TV. When the game ended, I saw him run towards the ice. And I told myself “We just won.” – I hadn’t realized it yet. I went on the ice and I jumped on all the other girls. I started crying like a baby. I must have cried for about four hours. I remember, I was there with Sami and Kim and we were skating around the ice, the three goalies together. It was really wonderful.”
“I told myself: “Next time, look – you can be there next time around.”
Charline Labonté on the naming of Danielle Goyette as flag bearer
I was so happy for her. Dan, she just turned forty. There’s no doubt that as Quebecers, we support each other. To have Danielle, a Quebecer, as Canada’s flag bearer is really special for us. In fact, the whole team is really happy, but for us, it’s really something, a bonus, to have the honor of being represented by a Quebecer.