Charles Hamelin's father leaves short track in Montreal for Calgary's Oval
Thursday, Jul 10, 2014 10:00 am
CALGARY - He made Canada's short-track speedskating team a world power. Now Yves Hamelin is now applying his expertise to the multi-headed sports operation at Calgary's Olympic Oval.
Hamelin was director of the short-track team based in Montreal for eight years and has lived in Quebec his entire life. The short-track team won eight Olympic medals and 40 world championship medals during Hamelin's tenure.
But now he is relocating west to become director of the Oval. The 55-year-old will juggle the facility's many moving parts which include the Canadian long-track speedskating team. Hamelin's first day on the job is Monday.
"That leadership part working with the team at the Oval, combined with my view and experience into speedskating and into sport, will be a good fit," Hamelin told The Canadian Press. "I'm in a good position to jump into such shoes."
If the last name is recognizable, it is because son Charles is a decorated Olympian with four short-track medals, including three gold.
While Hamelin is leaving Speed Skating Canada for a new employer — the University of Calgary's faculty of kinesiology — he will continue to have influence over the country's top speedskaters because of the sport's prominence at the Oval.
"I'm not leaving speedskating," Hamelin said. "I'm changing roles."
His departure is one of the changes at Speed Skating Canada following the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Short-track coach Jon Cavar was hired by the U.S. team last month.
Long-track program director Sean Ireland and executive director of sport Mark Mathies departed the organization because of restructuring due to reduced funding, according to Speed Skating Canada's chief executive officer Ian Moss.
But in the case of Hamelin, the organization intended to retain him and make him a high-performance director.
"We'd love to keep him for sure," Moss said. "If we're going to lose Yves, at least we're only going to lose him a little bit. He's still totally connected with us in the Oval and he's providing value-added to another section of our high-performance program.
"We're attached at the hip in the Oval. It's always been a priority for both sides that we have a strong relationship and a strong daily, working partnership."
The short-track team won three medals in Sochi, including Charles Hamelin's gold in the 1,500 metres.
After winning a combined 13 Olympic medals in 2006 and 2010, the long-track team produced just two in Sochi. Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., took silver and gold in the 1,000 and 1,500 metres.
Yves Hamelin isn't directly responsible for Canada's long-track athletes at the Oval because they remain under the authority of Speed Skating Canada.
But Hamelin is responsible for their training environment as well as the Oval's long- and short-track development programs that feed into the national teams.
"I think he can also play a role in helping re-grow the national program and bring it back up from a high-performance and Olympic standpoint," said Penny Werthner, dean of the faculty of kinesiology. "I think the sport has sort of slipped a bit and how can we bring it back up?
"I think there's a willingness on Speed Skating Canada's part to engage with us in a different way and I think Yves is the person who can make it happen. That's my hope and I think it's quite possible because of the role he's played previous to coming here."
Werthner said Hamelin's success with the short-track team, his previous business experience that includes working for Bombardier and Pratt and Whitney, and his strong connections with Speed Skating Canada made him the right fit for the unique demands of the Oval.
When previous director Kameron Kiland left the position last year to take over the family farm in Saskatchewan, Werthner's initial search for a replacement was unsuccessful.
"I thought it would be great if we could find a very good sport person with what I would call leadership skills," she said. "One might call them management skills, but someone who knows how to lead a group of people to great success.
"It's a hard find. I thought there was a second opportunity after Sochi to see who wants to change jobs. Not who needs to change jobs, but who wants to change jobs because lots of people need to after every Games and that can be good or bad."
The Oval is a crown jewel in the legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
Along with the many speedskating world records set there, it is home to a myriad of university, provincial and recreational sport teams that use the two ice surfaces encircled by the Oval, sprint track and weight room.
"The facility is used from early in the morning to late, late at night most days," Werthner said.
Athletes anywhere from the beginner's stage to Olympians like Morrison come to the Oval. Hamelin will manage an annual operating budget of approximately $7 million as well as a reserve capital budget of $17 million.
"Where do we want to be in three, five and 10 years as an organization?" Hamelin asked. "This is my number one interest and where I'm joining my efforts with the team on-site.
"The first few months will be the time when I meet people, have a better understanding and an accurate reading of operations and best practices that are in place and then make my mind up and then lead the team to the changes that I feel will be of benefit to the Oval."
Charles Hamelin admits he initially felt surprised at his father's departure from Montreal, but came to understand it.
"I believed that my father wanted to do something else," the 30-year-old son said. "He's been on top of, been in charge of short track for a long time. I think he's done a really, really good job with it, from where he took it to where it is now.
"We are in good hands right now. For him, I think it was maybe the time for him to go somewhere else, but we didn't know when it was going to happen and where he was going to go. He's not going to be super-far from long-track and short-track speedskating."
Hamelin has spent more time in Calgary than one might think because he's been in a long-distance relationship for several years with Sylvie Tanguay, the associate director of guest services at the Oval. Her son Phil Riopel is on the Canadian long-track development team.
"Whenever you're trying to move someone who is at the top end of their game, it's often not just the job that moves them," Werthner observed. "There's usually a few other factors for sure."
A key piece of Yves Hamelin's short-track legacy was fighting the political battles to get a designated short-track facility without hockey boards at Montreal's Maurice Richard Arena.
"Without hockey boards at Maurice Richard Arena, when we were training, no big injuries would happen to anyone and there was more ice time for us," Charles explained. "The more we skated, the better we became.
"It took him maybe four years of sending e-mails, sending letters, talking to people, talking to government and the city over and over. It wasn't a matter of hours or weeks. It was a matter of years. He had so many other things to take care of, but this one took a lot of his time and a lot of people don't see how much work it took to achieve that."
"When he has a dream, he believes in it and he follows it. He has the same instinct we (athletes) have."