Thunder thighs made of pure muscle

FOR USE AS DESIRED WITH DECADE END STORIES OR AS A STAND-ALONE PHOTO PACKAGE Catriona Le May Doan powers round the first turn on her way to an Olympic record of 37.30 seconds in the women's 500m speed skating at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic games on Wednesday Feb. 13, 2002. (CP PHOTO/Frank Gunn)

RICHMOND, B.C. - Even some seven years into retirement, Catriona Le May Doan has the same problem that plagued her throughout her speedskating career — finding pants that fit.

"Welcome to my whole life," bemoans the two-time Olympic champion. "Everything I have has a little bit of spandex in it. Most clothes, even jeans, stretch out a little bit, (but) that's always been our problem (as speedskaters), finding clothes that fit. Big legs, big butt. Always."

The long-track competition at the Vancouver Olympics is set to open Saturday with the men's 5,000 metres at the Richmond Olympic Oval, and one of the first things viewers at home are likely to notice about the athletes as they take to the start line is the bulging mass of muscle that is their thighs.

Given all the power that is needed to zip around the ice at speeds approaching 60 km/h, logic dictates that speedskaters would tend to be somewhat bottom-heavy in terms of muscle-development, with thick mounds of rock-hard flesh for thighs and calves. Many of the training exercises they do most often focus on the body's core and legs, making such an outcome impossible to avoid.

For men, that isn't a big deal, as they can go into a store, pick out most pairs of pants and rock them just fine. The one exception?

"I can't fit into the skinny jeans," says middle-distances star Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C. "Fair enough, no big loss."

But for women who already have to deal with curves of various sizes on the hips and butt, throwing extra thick thighs into the mix can make dressing up even more difficult, and looking good harder still.

"If you see skaters in casual clothes, the common person is more likely to look at a girl and say, `Holy, you have thunder thighs, you must be an Olympic athlete or something,'" says Morrison. "Whereas people never come up to guys to say that. They're like, `Whoa, I thought you'd have way bigger legs.'"

Medal favourite Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., complains that shopping for pants is always a nightmare. Nothing she tries on ever seems to fit right.

"Oh yeah, especially cause I'm a lot hippier than a lot of the girls on our team, too," she says. "So I have big legs, often times I'm trying on things and I can't get them over my legs, then I get them over my legs and then they stick on my hips, but then I have a small waist, and so it's like super tight on my legs and bum, and enormous around my waist."

That's why her strong preference is to "bum around" in team-issued sweats and other loose, comfortable sport gear. But Nesbitt does have one pair of go-to jeans, faded blue Hudsons, that Clara Hughes helped her find. Or, more accurately, made her buy.

"I don't have too much of a problem and my legs aren't too massive, but it can be challenging (finding pants that fit)," says Hughes. "I have this type of jean that I like called Hudsons, and I knew that they would fit Christine perfect. So I was like, `I'm taking you shopping and you have no choice, you're buying these jeans.'"

Replies Nesbitt: "They're extremely pricey, I'd never spent that much money on a pair of pants in my life, but she promised me that they would pay off and they already have, I wear them every single day. I'm wearing them right now."

Identifying clothing brands that fit just right is a common, and necessary topic for many female speedskaters, according to Hughes. Knowing a good tailor helps, too.

"Definitely," she says, "I'm always getting my jeans altered because the waist is always too big for the size of my legs."

"They're a tiny bit smaller, but I've had two kids, I'm not as in shape but my body hasn't changed that much," Le May Doan says of her legs. "I do just about as much weights as I did before because I worked for 23 years to get the legs I have, so I don't want them to get smaller."