Hall of Famer
Don Lyon is linked to many of the well-known athletes in Canadian women’s ski racing – including: 1974 World Championship Silver medalist: Betsy Clifford, 1976 Olympic Champion: Kathy Kreiner; 1982 World Champion: Gerry Sorensen; five time World Cup Gold medalist: Laurie Graham; 1986 World Cup winner at Furano: Liisa Savijarvi; double Olympic medalist and World Silver medalist: Karen Percy; Olympic champion and 1992 Female Athlete of the Year: Kerrin Lee-Gartner; and 1993 World Champion: Kate Pace-Lindsay. In all, “Lyon’s Lions” won 17 World Cup Golds, four Olympic medals, and two World Championships.
His career began in the late 1960s when the native of Ottawa, Ontario, took a job teaching skiing at Mont Tremblant, Quebec. During this time he fine-tuned his own skiing skills sufficiently well to compete for three years on the professional ski tour, building on the athletic prowess that enabled him to excel at a number of sports as a high school student – football, soccer, track & field. He later played soccer for the Ottawa Sooners Football Club and paddled his kayak to a Gold medal finish at the Canadian national Championships.
In 1968, he joined the National Capital Division, Ottawa, as a ski coach. Within a year, he was teaching Les Espoirs a program for developing skiers. In 1970, he joined the Canadian Women’s Alpine Ski Team that included such stars as Judy Crawford, Betsy Clifford, and Kathy and Laurie Kreiner. After the 1972 Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, he became Head Coach of the National team. He left the team in 1974 to spend three years at a ski club in Washington State followed by a further three years as technical Director of the Canadian Ski Association. He rejoined the Women’s National Alpine Ski team in 1981, remaining with the team for 13 years until 1994. During that time he built one of the most successful coaches careers in all Canadian sport, his team being represented at six Olympic Winter Games and seven World Championships.
In a career studded with great moments, the highlight of his illustrious career was undoubtedly Kerrin Lee-Gartner’s Olympic Winter Games Gold medal at Albertville, France. Speaking to the media after her medal win, Lee-Gartner said, “Don allowed me to grow into an athlete of world-class stature and taught me what it takes to get to the Olympics. Don keeps our motivation strong; he makes sure there is good rivalry between teammates…
Because of this we produce results even in training. Don continually looks ahead. He figures out why things didn’t go well and learns from these mistakes to ensure success for the next race. He always finds ways to build our confidence and make us believe in ourselves… We know Don will give us positive feedback and turn something negative into a positive. Every athlete on the Canadian Ski Team has 100 percent confidence in Don. We never hesitate to try what he asks from us and that confidence is extremely important. In fact, I think that’s the difference between a good coach and a fantastic coach. Winning athletes have total confidence in their coaches.”
Olympic Gold medalist, Kathy Kreiner, said in 1999 that she believes it was Don’s nurturing style of coaching that allowed her potential to unfold, “He would take me aside and instill a belief in me that I was capable of that level of result. He had a keen eye to detect when things were really working and flowing and was able to build on that by giving me the extra confidence, I needed to achieve our mutual goals. This is an ability that not every coach has. This goes beyond his ability to detect and correct errors, which was also very good. He is also very personable, making him easy to relate to as well as easy to approach.”
In 1994, disenchanted with the direction Canadian skiing was taking, concerned about the lack of a development system, more than a little burned-out and determined to spend more time with his family, he resigned from the national team and began work as a travel agent specializing in organizing summer and fall training camps for development-age athletes. He was never far away from coaching however. Working with Quebec’s Outaouais Zone program for three years, he placed talented youngsters on the Quebec ski team. Finding that he missed performance coaching, he spent two years working with the Quebec alpine ski team and, again, several of his athletes were elevated to the national team.
At whatever level he coaches, he is a great believer in athlete independence, which he considers essential to high performance success. He encourages his athletes to think for themselves and analyze their own situations. Planning and organization are key elements in his program as is confidence building which he achieves through proper progression in training, without exception, every day: “The athlete must create trust in themselves and in their abilities… to achieve this, practice sequencing must be deliberate and planned. I’ve found a methodical approach most effective when attempting to build confidence. This is a very basic element of coaching.”
He stresses being positive, honest, trustworthy, and being a good communicator as critical to developing successful people, adding that a coach must be very careful to be positive and straightforward. That applies to the coaching staff as much as to the athletes to ensure a good team: “A coach must completely trust the staff he hires or there will be problems…you must delegate and not undermine. Give direction as it is needed, but give some leeway to enable people to show they can handle responsibilities.”
Don Lyon is Past-President of the Canadian Ski Coaches Federation, Past-Chair of the Ski Canada Technical Committee, and a Technical Delegate with the International Ski Federation.
He was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, was a recipient of the Canadian Ski Coaches Federation “Dave Murray Memorial Coach of the Year” Award, and a three-time winner of the CAC Coaching Excellence Award.
In the 2003-04 season Don Lyon returned to coaching with the women’s National Development Group bringing with him his great experience, leadership, and skills.
SOURCE: Much of the following biography is extracted from Sheila Robertson’s 10 Coaches Who Made a Difference -To celebrate 10 years of Coaches Report, a panel chose 10 coaches who have contributed greatly to the coaching profession in Canada.
Please Note: The ski information gathered here is compiled from a number of sources; it may not be inclusive of all accomplishments. Copyright © 2021, Canadian Ski Museum. For Personal/Educational use only. All Rights Reserved.
Don Lyon, Kerrin Lee-Gartner. Alpine Canada Alpin.
1971-72 National Alpine Ski Team [L to R]: Nancy Greene, Reto Barrington, Russel Goodman, Diane Culver, ?, Doug Woodcock, Carolyn Oughton, ?, Derek Robbins, Diane Pratte, Paul Carson, Peter Bellos, Virginia Honeyman, Doug Temple, Luc Dubois (coach), Rick Hunter, Betsy Clifford, Aidan Ballantyne, Mike Culver, Judy Crawford, Al Raine (alpine program director), Jim Hunter, Robert Butler (coach), Don Lyon (coach). McLeod and Yee Photography / 9600-04.
National Alpine Ski Team c. 1980 [top row]: Don Lyon (coach), Peter Kopp (coach), Lynn Lacasse [bottom row]: Cathy Huser, Liisa Savijarvi, Angela Gougeon. Alpine Canada Alpin.
Inductees Peter (L-R) Andrews, Horst Bulau, Réal Charette, Don Lyon, and Raymond Lanctôt at 1994 Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. CSHFM Collection.