After three dominating Olympic Games, Marc Gagnon became a household name for Canadian short-track speed skating fans. His agility and determination earned him five Olympic medals, making him one of Canada’s most decorated Olympians. He has held many world records and was the first man to be a four-time winner of the Speed Skating World Championships.
However, before breaking records and standing on top of Olympic podiums, Gagnon’s journey began by competing at the Canada Games.
“When you go to a competition, you think it’s a competition like any other. I had done provincial competitions, I had done Canadian championships, but they were not the Canada Games,” Gagnon said.
At 15, Gagnon represented Team Quebec on the short track at the 1991 Canada Games in Prince Edward Island. It was an experience he said helped inspire him to pursue his Olympic dreams.
“The Canada Games are a mini Olympic Games. When I participated in them in 1991, the Olympic short-track speed skating movement was beginning to catch on because it was a demonstration sport in 1988,” he said. “This is what led me to greater horizons – the greatest competition which was the Olympic Games – but I lived this experience intensely having participated in the Canada Games.”
Three years later, Gagnon brought home his first Olympic medal, a bronze in the 1000m race at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer. He would follow that up at the Nagano 1998 Olympics by racing with his team to a gold medal in the 5000m men’s relay. In the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics, Gagnon stood on the podium three times — an individual gold in the 500m men’s race, a back-to-back team gold in the men’s 5000m relay, and a bronze medal in the 1500m men’s race.
Gagnon not only showed his speed and skill on the Olympic stage but also at the Speed Skating World Championships. He won 22 individual medals — 10 gold, eight silver, and four bronze — and six medals in men’s relay — two gold, three silver, and one bronze.
For all his successes, he is suitably a member of the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Speed Skating Canada’s Hall of Fame, the Quebec Speed Skating Hall of Fame, and the Panthéon des sports du Québec.
Gagnon retired from competition after his monumental wins at the 2002 Olympic Games. He explored other non-speed skating avenues, but he could no longer fight the ice that called to him and returned as a coach in 2010. He began working with the Short Track Speed Skating Canadian Regional Training Centre in Montreal and was later named the head coach in 2014.
In 2021, he joined Speed Skating Canada’s national short-track program as an assistant coach. At the Beijing 2022 Olympics, Gagnon returned to familiar territory in his new role. The 2022 Olympic short track team raced to four medals — one gold, one silver, and two bronze — with Gagnon supporting at the helm.
Like many young people following in his footsteps, it was the Canada Games that helped spark his confidence and ambition to want to make it as far as he could go. Gagnon’s memories of seeing the Canada Games flame lit and extinguished, being a part of the Canadian speed skating community, and meeting athletes from different sports stayed with him, and those memories pushed him towards even bigger goals.
“This is what really ignited my desire of not wanting to just be a world champion, but also an Olympic champion. It began with the Canada Games,” he said.
Gagnon has proved Canada’s prowess on the short-track ice surface on an international level, putting everything he has into each of his roles. From creating his own legacy to helping spark greatness in others, the Canada Games was his first and greatest stepping stone.
“We’re preparing young athletes to compete in higher-level competitions that are much larger and much more stressful. To group all of these athletes, parents, coaches, and volunteers – to group all of these people together for this single, beautiful thing is the essence of the Canada Games movement and we are very privileged to have this in Canada,” said Gagnon.