Saskatchewan

Canadian leading national team's high performance development program sets sights on Rio

After two Olympic games, and two medals for her athletes, Carla Nicholls is heading to Rio with the best batch of athletes she has ever seen.

From the University of Regina to the Olympics, Carla Nicholls is forging a new era of Canadian athlete

The Canadian Olympic Committee has said that it is ready for the upcoming Games despite an unusual buildup. Over the past year, the COC has dealt with scandals and unexpected resignations. ( Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

After two Olympic games, and two medals for her athletes, Carla Nicholls is heading to Rio with the best batch of athletes she has ever seen. 

Nicholls, talent ID and development lead for Athletics Canada, is in charge of discovering and fostering new talent for the Canadian team. 

She started her Olympic career as the national coach for jumps and combined events.

​After taking the University of Regina track and field team from a 17-person club to a 110-person, consecutive conference winning team, she was asked to become a national coach.

Then-Canadian head coach Les Gramantik called her up for the position for the upcoming 2008 Olympic games, though Nicholls needed some convincing.
Carla Nicholls a former heptathlete is now forging the new generation of Canadian Olympian. ( Arthur Images)

"I was thrilled but I was shocked, I told him I'm not ready for this. So his question back to me was, 'Were you ready for your first kiss?" 

Laughing when retelling the story, Nicholls said she wasn't. When Gramantik asked if she kissed him anyway, Nicholls replied, "yep."

"Alright, let's go,' he said, and off we went," Nicholls recalled. 

Beijing was the first time she watched a Canadian athlete win a medal while she was a national coach. 

"I can't begin to describe it. It's just a real sense of pride," said Nicholls on Priscilla Lopes-Schliep winning a bronze for women's hurdling.

Lopes-Schliep was personally coached by Anthony McCleary and Desai Williams. At the time, Nicholls was Team Canada's coach for jumps and combined events in Beijing.

At the Olympics she was the coach on the track during the events.  

She would see another athlete she coached at the games reach the podium during the London Olympic games in 2012.​

Brianne Theisen-Eaton following the 200m event at the 2016 Canadian Track and Field Championships in Edmonton, Alberta on July 10, 2016. (Kevin Light/CBC)

While in the U.S. at an event, Nicholls learned that athlete Shawnacy Barber had dual citizenship between Canada and the U.S. 

"He had not been on a major international team, and I felt like there was something special about this kid," said Nicholls. 

In 2012, Barber joined Athletics Canada. In 2015, he became the world's second-highest ranked pole vaulter. 

"When the flame went out in London, that's when the program started focusing on 2020," said Nicholls. 

BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 24: Shawnacy Barber of Canada competes in the Men's Pole Vault final during day three of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 24, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images) (Ian Walton/Getty Images)

"That's why this Olympic games is so special to me, because I started this program," she said, adding that all competing athletes will have gone through her program.  

Leading up to Rio, Nicholls said Saskatchewan should keep an eye on heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton. Born in Humboldt, Sask., she is ranked top in the world in her discipline. 

Nicholl still lives in Regina where she was born and raised.