By Jennifer Elliott
Sue Hylland is known and respected throughout the Canadian sports world for her 30 years of leadership in sports management with the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canada Games Council. She was chosen as one of Canada’s 2015 most influential women in sport and received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. She now brings her considerable experience to the University of Ottawa as its new director of Sports Services effective August 22.
Hylland recounted some of her memories and perspectives in an email interview.
After 18 years with the Canadian Olympic Committee, what are some of your favourite memories from working at the Olympic Games?
Living in the Olympic Village and watching how the power of sport can literally unite the world into one village, in peace, was always a powerful moment for me at each of the games I worked. I’ve seen some of the greatest athletes of all time, from all nations, walking around the Olympic Village as if they were just any other athlete, with no special attention being paid to them.
I had the opportunity to be the lead staffer for Team Canada at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. I was responsible for the planning from beginning to end for both of those Games. It was truly a great privilege and honour for me to be at the service of Canada’s top athletes and coaches, making sure they had what they needed to perform at their best. Calgary and Lillehammer were special as well: Calgary was my first Olympic Games as a staff member, and at Lillehammer, I was able to enjoy some of the Games with my family, given my Norwegian heritage.
Before you began your career, you were an athlete yourself. How did your own experience as a Canada Games participant inspire your career in sport administration?
My experience at the Canada Games in 1979 was phenomenal. I was co-captain of Team Quebec, on the women’s basketball team. When I arrived in Brandon, Manitoba, I realized how big the Canada Games were. They are the “Olympics” of Canada for our young, developing athletes. And it struck me how powerful they were, and how proud I felt to be Canadian and to represent my province of Quebec. As a young person, getting the chance to participate in something that massive was a truly positive experience that had a profound impact on me. We also won the gold medal in the last event on the program, which allowed Quebec to steal the “Canada Games Flag Award” from Ontario!
Why do you believe participation in sport is important?
I have seen first-hand the power of sport to unite people and communities — whether you are an athlete, coach, volunteer or fan. Sport also has the power to break down barriers. The values of hard work, respect, commitment, dedication and discipline are demonstrated through participation in sport.
My parents valued sport and, because of that, I was active in sport all my life. I have watched the opportunities for young girls and women in sport grow from a time when I would wake up in the morning to watch my brother’s hockey practice, to a time when as a mother with a young daughter, I was able to see how many greater opportunities she had in many sports.
Do you still have some basketball skills? What else keeps you active?
I think my daughter Kellie would say I can still shoot the ball, but that’s about it; I get tired watching everyone run up and down the court now! (Kellie Ring recently starred as point guard for the Gee-Gees women’s basketball team and graduated as the team’s all-time assist leader.)
Many years ago, in the early 1990s, I played in the University of Ottawa women’s summer basketball league with many young mothers. We would all bring our young children to the games, and Kellie was one of them. I definitely helped to recruit her to the Gee-Gees. I am now into simpler things but still trying to stay active and healthy through physical activity of some type, good nutrition and healthy habits.
What do you think students at uOttawa should expect from Sports Services?
Sports Services needs to provide a positive culture of excellence and participation with access to good facilities and programming. It needs to provide a wide range of programming for all levels, with well-organized and committed staff. I want all students at the University to be proud Gee-Gees, whether they are intercollegiate athletes, recreational athletes or students engaged in non-sport activities. We should all be proud Gee-Gees no matter what we are doing to engage with life on campus!