Former Cougars track team coach is on the road to Rio

By Costa Maragos Posted: August 2, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Carla Nicholls has high hopes for the Canadian track team at the Rio games. She’s the Technical High Performance Lead for the Canadian Track and Field team.
Carla Nicholls has high hopes for the Canadian track team at the Rio games. She’s the Technical High Performance Lead for the Canadian Track and Field team. Photo courtesy of Arthur Images

Carla Nicholls is pumped about making yet another appearance at the Summer Olympics.

Nicholls, former Cougars track team coach from 2001 to 2009, has high medal hopes for the Canadian track team. Nicholls is considered one of the most successful Cougar coaches of all time.  

We chatted with Carla about the Olympics and her warm memories of time spent at the U of R.

This is the third time you are representing Canada at the Olympics. What does that feel like?

This is certainly an honour. Even though it is my third games, I never take for granted how lucky I am to be granted this position. I have always promised myself that I would enjoy every minute of every second of all three games experiences, while giving all I have to ensure the success of Team Canada.  
My dream since I was a little girl was to represent Canada at the Olympic Games. It took a few years to realize that this would not happen as an athlete, but then I soon realized that I had a lot to offer our Canadian Team in another role. Representing our great country not once, not twice, but three times on the world largest stage is an incredible feeling.  

What is your role at the Rio games?

Rio 2016 will be different than any other role that I have played. In 2008 and 2012 I was on the coaching staff with my number one focus on the event group that I was assigned too.  
This time around, possibly due to the fact that I do have multiple games experience, I will go as Technical High Performance Lead. This position focuses on the entire team, working very closely with our head coach Peter Eriksson, ensuring that the environment we set is the very best for our athletes to succeed from a high performance perspective. Ensuring this team gets what it needs is the number one objective, which may be a bit of a challenge in Rio.

There appear high hopes for this team in Rio. How do you feel about this crop of track athletes who have qualified for the Olympics?

I feel very confident since as they all have come through my development program one way or another (laughing).  
Seriously though, you are correct, this is the most talented group of athletes that Athletics Canada has seen in its history. There is no doubt that they have the ability to be successful in Rio. Our biggest challenge, and the challenge of all countries, will be to keep them healthy and rested prior to their debut. If we as integrated support staff can do our jobs properly to provide that environment of high performance achievement, our athletes will rise to the occasion.  
There’s still a low percentage of female coaches on the Canadian Olympic team. What needs to be done to change that?
I have always felt that the best way to get the very best out of anyone is to provide mentorship opportunity. Providing our female coaches an opportunity to learn amongst the very best is key. The more our athletes observe and are coached by successful female coaches, the more inclined female athletes will be to take that next step in athletics after competition retirement to enter a coaching career.  

What was the best part of your experience as coach at the U of R?

Oh my goodness, the list is endless. When I took over the team, there were 17 athletes, three were women. We were not ranked very high in the CIS or our own conference. There was no feeling of ownership or pride to be on the team. I think this stemmed back to the fact that it was a community team and trained off campus. The University supported the team when it came to championships etc., however, my position was honorarium and the athletes trained with a club.

By the time I left, the University fully invested in the team.  An indoor track was built, the athletes were moved onto campus with team rooms, they had Cougar clothing apparel and the numbers shot up to 110 athletes on the roster with 50 per cent women on the team. The year I left, they continued to win the conference championship multiple years in a row. So my best experience was knowing the legacy that I left behind for many athletes to chase their dreams in athletics, while sustaining a future for themselves through academic achievement
Carla Nicholls is Lead of High Performance Athlete Development for Athletics Canada. Her responsibilities include identifying and developing athletes for the next Olympic games – 2020 and beyond. She continues to make Regina her home.