The Mysterious Comedown of a Canadian Olympic Darling

Myriam Bédard, arrested in Columbia, Md., last month, leaves the Quebec City courthouse Friday with partner Nima Mazhari, who faces charges of art theft.
Myriam Bédard, arrested in Columbia, Md., last month, leaves the Quebec City courthouse Friday with partner Nima Mazhari, who faces charges of art theft. (By Paul Chiasson -- Canadian Press Via Associated Press)
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

TORONTO, Jan. 8 -- She was the sweetheart of Canada, a smart, attractive athlete who conquered a tough sport at the 1994 Olympics and brought back two gold medals from the biathlon. But this Christmas, Myriam Bedard ended up in a Maryland jail, accused by her ex-husband of abducting their daughter.

Her long, slow fall from the apex of public praise brought her briefly into the swirl of Canada's biggest recent political scandal, and has been painstakingly chronicled in the Canadian mass media.

Returned to Montreal last week and released on bail Friday, Bedard, 37, said she would speak out publicly this week on her treatment by authorities, which she has labeled "bureaucratic terrorism." But many here wish she would not.

She was arrested Dec. 22 at a hotel in Columbia, Md., on an international fugitive warrant, charged with a criminal count of child abduction for taking her young daughter from Canada in violation of a custody agreement with her ex-husband.

To some, it is a seamy domestic dispute that further tarnishes her image. Others, including still-loyal fans, believe her claims that powerful interests are conspiring against her. And others, including her father and brother, claim that the former Olympian has come under the sway of an Iranian refugee who himself faces charges of art theft.

"This whole matter should be solved privately, firstly for the sake of her daughter, and secondly for herself," said Andre Pratt, the lead editorial writer of La Presse, a French-language newspaper in Montreal. "If she goes on blaming the government and bureaucratic terrorism, she will hurt herself and what remains of her reputation."

"People think she's crazy," acknowledged her Montreal attorney, John Pepper Jr. "She's not. She's a very determined, very organized individual who is taking care of her daughter to the best of her ability."

Bedard contends that her problems stemmed from testimony she gave before a parliamentary committee in 2004 on what became known as the sponsorship scandal, centered on payoffs to Quebec associates of the then-ruling Liberal Party.

She testified to what she said were financial improprieties by Jean Pelletier, chairman of Via Rail, the national railroad. She said she was fired from her marketing job at Via Rail in retaliation for her questions. Pelletier eventually was dismissed by the government from his job.

But Bedard's testimony was undercut by seemingly bizarre statements she then made, most notably that her current partner, Nima Mazhari, had personally persuaded the Canadian government to stay out of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

It wasn't the first time Bedard had raised incredulous eyebrows. After the glow faded from her victories at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway, she tried a comeback in the sports of rowing and skating. When that failed, she publicly criticized Olympic authorities and former sponsors.

The controversies tarnished the image that had captivated Canadians -- a confident victor who had taken on biathlon, a sport still obscure in Canada.

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