Diane Clement, former Olympian and pioneer for women in sports, to receive Order of Canada | CBC News

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Diane Clement, former Olympian and pioneer for women in sports, to receive Order of Canada | CBC News

Diane Clement, former Olympian and pioneer for women in sports, to receive Order of Canada | CBC News

Diane Clement credits mosquitoes for making her so fast.

When she was a young girl training on a track her father built by the marshlands of Moncton, N.B., she’d move as fast as she could to avoid getting swarmed.

All these years later, Clement is 83, a former Olympian and Olympic team manager and, now, a member of the Order of Canada. 

She received the call from the Governor General’s office about a week ago, saying she would be among the 120 Canadians to receive the honour in Ottawa in 2020.

Her citation highlights her “contributions to sport and recreation as an advocate for athletic excellence, fitness and healthy living among all Canadians.”

“I was speechless. In fact I had tears. I couldn’t believe it,” Clement said over the phone from her downtown Vancouver apartment.

Clement and her husband, Doug, met during the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. (BC Sports Hall of Fame)

Clement’s career shattered records and glass ceilings — and largely defined Canada’s track and field landscape.

Clement ran for Canada at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, competing in the 100- and 220-yard dash, as well as the 440 yards relay. She was the first New Brunswick athlete — male or female — to compete in a Summer or Winter Olympics.

In 1958, she participated in the Cardiff, Wales, Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal.

Clement went on to become the first woman to coach UBC’s track and field team and the first woman to serve as president of Athletics Canada.

But she battled assumptions about what women could and couldn’t accomplish long before she took those jobs.

“Women had a choice in track and field of [running] 100 or 200 metres and [were told] if we trained for more than that, we might not bear children, and that was the mandate that we had at that time,” she said.

“When you think of what women have accomplished in all sports over the decades, and they thought that we were so delicate that we couldn’t train for more than 200 metres, halfway around a track. We’ve come a long way, and women have shown that, if we do the proper training and have the proper coaches and support, we can do it all,” she said.

Clement met her future husband, Doug, at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956.

Shortly after they were married, they received a phone call from Richmond City Hall, saying it would build a track for the municipality if they started a club. The couple founded the Richmond Kajaks Track and Field Club, which has trained dozens of athletes that went on to compete in the Olympics.

The couple served as co-mayors of the Athletes’ Villages during the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria and the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver. 

Clement is also a co-founder of the Vancouver Sun Run and the author of eight cookbooks promoting healthy living.

She said her and Doug, who celebrated their 60th anniversary this year, continue to exercise together every other day. When they travel to Ottawa for the ceremony at Rideau Hall, it won’t be their first time: Doug was honoured with the Order of Canada back in 1991.

“We were wondering what other couple in Canada may have received it as well,” Clement said with a laugh. “To be given that honour means so much to me and to my family.”

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