He stood near the base of Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, looking up the hill where a group of Canadian kids that idolized Brassard were about to take Olympic flight, just as their hero had done 20 years earlier, winning moguls gold at Lillehammer 1994.
The effect of legacy is such that a pioneer feels responsible for those that come after him. It is with that earnestness the freestyle skiing legend embraces his place in Canadian sport. On Thursday, that relationship between his past and present earned Brassard the title of Chef de Mission for Team Canada at Rio 2016.
An ever-present figure at Olympic venues during Sochi 2014, Jean-Luc Brassard seen here after ladies’ moguls where a couple of Olympians who idolized him growing up finished 1-2 on the podium.
First thing Canada’s summer athletes need to know if they’re unfamiliar with Brassard – a Winter Games luminary – is that he will be their biggest cheerleader.
“The Rio challenge was very appealing to me,” Brassard, the Nagano 1998 Opening Ceremony flag bearer, told Olympic.ca prior to his introductory press conference. “My role is to support the team, to listen to the athletes. I see this as a great challenge given the scale of these Games.”
That support, and Brassard’s commitment, starts long before the 16 days on the ground in Brazil, but in the months, weeks and days leading to Rio 2016.
“If I go back to when I was an athlete, you can’t wait to see how it will all unfold, but now that I have a certain perspective, I know the greatest adventure starts now.”
Brassard, flanked by Sochi 2014 Chef de Mission Steve Podborski (right) and Olympic medallist figure skater Joannie Rochette at Canada Olympic House.
That outlook comes from both being a trailblazing elite athlete and as a high-level volunteer in Canada’s Olympic missions. Brassard was one of the assistant Chefs at Sochi 2014 and was among the first to arrive at competition arenas, usually in the chilly mountain-based events, throughout the Games.
Brassard’s poise and easy-going demeanour was a welcome sight against the tension that builds at once-in-a-lifetime situations that most Olympians face during competition. One look at Brassard’s face and an athlete will know instinctively, “yeah, he’s got my back.”
Brassard’s contagious smile was one of the sure things at Sochi 2014 mountain venues. Even during tense competition he found a way to put people at ease.
Yet still some may raise an eyebrow that a winter athlete was chosen to lead a Summer Games mission, to which Brassard injects, “I’ve been cold a lot in my life, warm weather will be a welcome change.” Like many great leaders, Brassard naturally uses humour to put people at ease. Athletes and coaches will quickly learn that his smile is contagious. He also has a personal summer sports background.
“I started my athletic career in gymnastics. I always had a soft spot for the sport.”
And like most Canadians on that summer day in Atlanta 1996 when one of theirs was on top of the world, Brassard too beamed with pride.
“I have great memories of being in the stadium for Donovan Bailey’s 100-metre world record.”
One of the enduring images of Canadian sport, Donovan Bailey breaking the 100-metre world record at Atlanta 1996. Brassard was at the venue working with a TV crew.
Brassard was in Atlanta, already a Canadian Olympic icon, brought in as part of a television crew and also watched Bailey anchor the 4 x 100m relay team to glory.
“When you witness athletics at its pinnacle, all sports become exceptional to watch.”
After Thursday, his first steps will be to “connect” with the prospective Olympians readying for Rio and their sport federations. It is an ambassadorship that fits Brassard perfectly.
Diplomacy aside, it’s Brassard’s empathy and deep, intimate understanding of the role of an Olympic mission team that will provide invaluable leadership at Rio 2016. He knows what it’s all about.
“We are there for the athletes. We share their joys and sorrows.”