Road To The Olympic Games

Curt Harnett 'natural' fit to step in as last-minute chef de mission

After Jean-Luc Brassard abruptly stepped down on Monday, the Canadian Olympic Committee needed to find a replacement in a hurry. They went straight to the person who last led Canada into an international competition, Curt Harnett.

Harnett admits situation is different this time

Former Olympic cyclist Curt Harnett has replaced Jean-Luc Brassard as chef de mission for Team Canada in Rio. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The focus is solely on the athletes and coaches, said Curt Harnett, who just took over the role as Canada's chef de mission for the Rio Olympics.

Harnett stepped into a familiar position, taking on the same duties he fulfilled at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Harnett is ready to rally the country's top athletes as they prepare for the Olympics.

The chef de mission is the team leader and spokesman for Canadian athletes at the Games. Harnett said he is the face of team. 

"I do see it as a key role," said Harnett. 

But less than a week after getting the phone call to become Team Canada's Chef de Mission in Rio, he's still registering what it all means.

"I would have loved to have had months and months to plan and prepare, but I have faith in the group that the kind of planning that we went through for Toronto is being executed for Rio," said Harnett.

'Natural transition'

After Jean-Luc Brassard abruptly stepped down on Monday, the Canadian Olympic Committee needed to find a replacement in a hurry. CEO Chris Overholt and other members went straight to the person who last led Canada into an international competition. Harnett said it didn't take long for him to make a decision.

"It's a natural transition," said Harnett. "I wore my heart on my sleeve for those years leading up to TO2015 and on the ground in Toronto last summer."

Harnett admits this is a different situation. With less than four months to the Olympics in Rio, he understands it's going to be a sprint to be fully prepared to be Canada's chef de mission at the Games.

"There is a strong relationship to what's going to go on now in the next four months and how that parallels to what our athletes are going through right now," said Harnett.  "It's laser focus. I see the finish line."

And if there's anyone who knows what it takes to win a sprint race, it's Harnett. A three-time Olympic medallist and four-time Olympian, the track cyclist made a smooth transition from athlete to team leader. It's that athlete perspective that he said allows him to understand what Canada's top performers are going to need in Rio.

"You put yourself back in your athlete shoes and say 'what would I want?" 

Harnett wants to ensure the athletes and coaches are at the centre of the focus in Rio. He admits there are going to be challenges and distractions, but it's no different than what he faced leading up to Toronto.

In the months leading up to the Pan Am Games, he tirelessly reiterated that it was every Canadians job to support the athletes on the field of the play in Toronto. Now he's taking that same philosophy to Rio and hopes that Canadians support the team in the same way they did last summer.

"It's my job to bring us collectively down that path," said Harnett. 

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