Scott is skiing's golden gal

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

VERMILION -- It was hard to tell, exactly, who was paying tribute to whom.

The way the town saw it, yesterday was its last best chance to reach out and group hug its favourite daughter.

To hear Beckie Scott tell it, yesterday wasn't about what she means to Vermilion, but rather what Vermilion means to her.

Either way, it was a heartwarming love in between one of Canada's greatest winter athletes and the people who've been with her every stride of the way.

"It surpassed any expectations I had, just the size of it," said Scott, her wide eyes panning the Lakeland College gym, transformed for the evening into a retirement and recognition dinner. "I was really not expecting it on this level."

WHOLE TOWN CAME OUT

The whole town came out for this one, those fortunate enough to secure a seat at one of the tables, anyway. The mayor, the MLA, the MP, her fans, friends and family, all gathering to congratulate the 32-year-old on her incredible career, and the honest and dignified way she pursued it.

Scott, in turn, must have said 'thank you' a million times.

"More than anything, this is an opportunity for me to show my appreciation to the people of Vermilion for all their support and enthusiasm and everything they've given me over the years," said Scott, a two-time Olympic medallist, gold and silver, in cross-country skiing.

"It's where I started and in a way it's where I'm coming home to. It's really a full circle, to close the door on my skiing career and celebrate it with the town that's been with me through all of it."

STILL IN THE GAME

While Scott is no longer a competitive skier, she is still very much in the game. A member of the World Anti-Doping Agency's athlete committee, she will continue her crusade, this time from inside the boardrooms, for drug-free sports.

"I think I bring a lot of experience to the table, because of what happened to me, and it drives me," said Scott, who was originally awarded a bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, but had it upgraded to silver, then gold, after the two Russian women who finished ahead of her tested positive for steroids.

"I feel a deep sense of responsibility to clean athletes now, being one of the people on the other side who can make an impact for them. Impacting change can be really glacial sometimes when you realize the amount of bureaucracy that's involved, but, at the same time, we're there as a face of how urgent this problem is."

And her word carries weight. Get a bunch of international athletes together and you'll have a hard time getting them to agree what color snow is, but at Torino 2006 they overwhelmingly agreed that Beckie Scott should be their voice in future Olympics, electing her to the IOC athletes commission.

"It was a tremendous honour," said Scott, who'll be representing their issues at the Vancouver, Beijing and London Games. "I was really blown away to win, and by such a big margin. It was inspiring for me.

'KNEW WHAT I STOOD FOR'

"Even though not everyone who knew me personally, or followed my career, I think they knew what I stood for: clean sport and fair sport."

Her post-career endeavours don't allow much spare time, but when she gets it she works closely with UNICEF, having travelled to West Africa as part of the Girls' Education program.

She's received numerous awards, as much for what she does off the track as on, including the Governor General's Meritorious Service Award and the CBC's Spirit of Sports Award. She was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

Quite a trip, from a five-year old kid who could barely stand up on her skis to this, one of the most respected athletes on the planet, a globetrotting ambassador for all that is still good in sports.

"I think about it all the time, from where I began to where I am now," she smiled. "It's been an incredible journey."


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