Getting your butt kicked by a 68-year-old woman

Canadian legend ... Nancy Greene.
Canadian legend ... Nancy Greene.

Nothing keeps the sporting ego in check like being destroyed by a 68-year-old. And this isn't the first time it's happened, either. It's not even the first sport.

My dad's no spring chicken these days. He's got a dodgy shoulder - or elbow, or something on his arm, I can't keep track - and he's always complaining about his knees being stuffed, but he absolutely wipes the floor with me on the golf course. Embarrasses me.

And he's got cataracts in each eye! He can barely see the ball if he's tonked it more than 100 metres. "Where'd that one go, mate?" he'll ask as he steps off the tee. "Down the middle, dad."

Sigh. So it's not a new feeling to discover that there's someone who's technically a pensioner out there who can kick my butt.

Australians, meet Nancy Greene. Nancy's a bit of a Canadian legend, in case you didn't know. A skiing world champion and Olympic gold medallist. Being allowed to ski with Nancy is like being allowed to swim with Dawn Fraser - an honour for her compatriots who know all about her, and a baffling lesson in how dismal an athlete you are for anyone else who might fancy themselves against someone of advancing years.

I'm standing atop a ski run at Sun Peaks, one of the smaller resorts in British Columbia, ready to take on the champ. I'm wondering what this is going to be like. Should I take it easy, be a gentleman and let her take the lead? Or go full speed and just see her down at the bottom?

I'm still pondering this when Nancy smiles her deceptively friendly smile. "OK!" she yells, poles in hand. "Let's rip this one!"

By the time I figure out what she's talking about, Nancy is a red-jacketed, 68-year-old speck about halfway down the mountain.

Man, this lady can ski.

I had actually been warned previously: don't pass Nancy Greene. No one passes Nancy Greene. Good advice, but irrelevant.

Nancy is fast. She might have won her gold medals back in the '60s, but that hasn't dulled the competitive spirit that earned her the nickname "Tiger". When Nancy says "let's rip", she means let's rip.

There's a big handwritten sign at the bottom of the chairlift: "Nancy Greene is skiing today". She's a bit of a celebrity around Sun Peaks and not just because of the gold medals. Nancy and her husband, Al Raine, basically built this whole village from scratch, helping expand its profile while laying bricks and mortar (there's even a Nancy Greene Lodge, its walls plastered with trophies, memorabilia and photos of Canadian skiing's smiling assassin). Al's the town mayor, which you'd think would mean Nancy now plays second fiddle, but you'd think wrong.

Nancy's a Canadian senator. Of course. She spends the first four days of her week in Ottawa running the country, has a day off on Fridays, and then spends her weekends hosting free guided tours of the Sun Peaks ski trails - meaning you, too, have the chance of being consummately embarrassed by a 68-year-old Canadian senator.

She's actually lovely, unfailingly polite and genuinely interested in the Sun Peaks guests.

"So you're the writer from Sydney, huh?" she asks me as we take a seat on the chairlift after that first run.

"Yep," I nod, having pretty much got my breath back.

"I know," she smiles, "I Googled you this morning."

Well we're even then, I think to myself. I Googled you this morning, too. It was intimidating.

Nancy's all sweetness and light really, the consummate diplomat, until you hear the "click, click" of ski boots going into bindings.

That first run is no anomaly. She gets to the top again, waits patiently - if a little disapprovingly - as the snowboarders strap their feet onto their boards, and surveys the black-diamond run in front of us. "OK!" she says, in what's now a familiar refrain. "Let's rip this one!"

And off she goes again. Swish, swish through the soft, powdery snow. Skis together in perfect parallel, knees bouncing in an easy rhythm.

Suddenly, one of our group, a snowboarder of all people, decides to gas it, speeding past Nancy as she pauses to let a few others catch up. Our Olympic champ's eyes narrow slightly as she wheels around, points the tips of her skis downhill and tucks her poles under her arms.

Watch out, here comes Tiger.

She blasts past the snowboarder, leaving him and the rest of us in the group to gamely attempt to keep her in our sights, a speck of red dancing through trees in the distance.

We almost collapse getting back on the chairlift, but Nancy's turning on the charm again, doing what good politicians and ambassadors do, making everyone feel welcome, making them feel good. And then we've made it to the top of the mountain again.

She flashes a deceptively friendly smile. "OK! Let's rip this one!"

This story Getting your butt kicked by a 68-year-old woman first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.