BY GEORGE MARATOS

Fifteen years ago, a young Yukon girl, armed with just an old broom handle, would relentlessly practise her weightlifting technique and form.

A member of a weightlifting club that would train at Porter Creek Secondary School, with each push of the wooden handle the 12-year-old would envision one day lifting for her country on the Olympic stage.

That girl was Jeane Lassen and, 15 years later, the Whitehorse weightlifter’s dream has come true.

Speaking a day before boarding a plane to Beijing (to compete after press time), Lassen says it is still a surreal feeling to know she is an Olympian.

“I’ve been thinking about this since I was 12,” said Lassen. “But at times I find myself asking if this is really happening.”

Lassen punched her ticket to Beijing in convincing fashion shattering her own Canadian record by a massive five kilograms while competing at the national qualifiers in Quebec earlier this year.

She actually broke the record twice, first lifting 107 kilograms and then following that with the record-breaking 110-kilo lift.

And while the Olympic berth is the most impressive of her weightlifting accomplishments, it is just one of her many accolades in the sport.

At just 15 years of age, she won a silver medal at the Canada Winter Games.

In 2006, she won a bronze medal at the World Championships and then captured gold at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia with a Games record lift of 132 kilograms.

Despite her weightlifting dominance, Lassen remains even-keeled when discussing her achievements, quicker to acknowledge the support she has received from family and friends than her tireless work ethic and gruelling training schedule.

“I’m still me, I’m not a better person just because I’m going to the Olympics,” explains the modest Lassen, who only had one rest day a week during training and was in the gym three times a day, three times a week. “I am who I am and am not magically going to transform into something new when I get on the plane.”

Lassen’s journey to the 2008 Summer Games has involved a number of momentous decisions on her part.

It was a year and a half ago that the 27-year-old decided to leave Montréal and return to Whitehorse.

With no coach or training partners and having to deal with the transition of returning to a small town and living back at home with her Mom, Lassen can now confidently call the decision one of the most important of her career.

“I am so lucky,” smiles Lassen, when reflecting on the support she has received from fellow Yukoners. “It’s really different for a lot of my teammates and I just feel that I can’t fail as long as I try my best.”

A testament to that community encouragement was a recent test event and pep rally in Whitehorse that saw dozens of Yukoners in attendance.

In addition to the local support, another benefit of being back in Whitehorse is being closer to her Mom, Moira, who is also involved with the Olympics working as the lone female weightlifting official.

“It’s all very exciting,” explains Moira, when speaking about her and Jeane’s accomplishments. “We’ve both worked hard for this and we’re just ready for it to get started.”

And while Jeane has a podium finish and even gold medal on her mind, she knows it’s not all about the hardware.

“If I don’t do well it’s not the end, it’s not the definition of everything I’ve done over my career so far,” explains the focused Lassen. “But I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt and know I’m ready to compete at my best.

“When I’m lifting at the Olympics I’m going to be thinking of all the Yukoners that have been there for me and they’re going to help me push that bar up. Pressure can be negative or positive and I’m fortunate that it has been really positive.”

PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]