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Olympic Oval skates into a new era with a new look

Director Yves Hamelin speaks about the refreshed identity and the Oval’s relentless pursuit of excellence
January 27, 2017
Yves Hamelin, director of the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary, says the refreshed Oval identity leverages and respects its university ties, yet maintains a strong and compelling presence in the competitive market for high-performance ice training venues around the world.  Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Yves Hamelin, director of the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary, says the refreshed Oval identity leverages and respects its university ties, yet maintains a strong and compelling presence in the competitive market for high-performance ice training venues around the world.  Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Canadian national speedskating star Jamie Macdonald (above, and below-left) won a silver medal in the 500m at the 2016 ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating event at the Olympic Oval Nov.4-6. With Macdonald on the podium are ISU world record holder Elise Christie of Great Britain, who won gold, and bronze winner Yara van Kerkhof of the Netherlands. Photos by Arno Hoogveld, University of Calgary

Canadian national speedskating star Jamie Macdonald (above, and below-left) won a silver medal in the 500m at the 2016 ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating event at the Olympic Oval Nov. 4-6. With Macdonald on the podium are ISU world record holder Elise Christie of Great Britain, who won gold, and bronze winner Yara van Kerkhof of the Netherlands. Photos by Arno Hoogveld, University of Calgary

Canadian national speedskating star Jamie Macdonald (above, and below-left) won a silver medal in the 500m at the 2016 ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating event at the Olympic Oval Nov.4-6. With Macdonald on the podium are ISU world record holder Elise Christie of Great Britain, who won gold, and bronze winner Yara van Kerkhof of the Netherlands. Photos by Arno Hoogveld, University of Calgary

After all these years, nothing gets Yves Hamelin quite as excited as a race day. During the recent World Cup Short Track Speed Skating held at the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary, Hamelin was exuding the kind of energy usually reserved for the athletes on the ice.

There are not many in the sport who do not know who he is. Hamelin is the father of Olympic and World Cup skaters François and Charles Hamelin and he spent eight years as director of the Canadian Short Track team with Speed Skating Canada. During those years, he helped guide the team to 294 podiums (World Cup, World Championships and Olympic competitions) and a combined eight Olympic medals in 2010 and 2014. 

Like his sons, Hamelin is fast. In just two years as the director of the Oval, the dynamic, forward thinker has brought in the infrastructure to keep it an internationally acclaimed “game-ready” facility. It should come as no surprise then as the Olympic Oval moves into a new era, with a new look, that its charismatic leader remains optimistic for the future.

“A simple change in our image makes us more accessible, it gets the public into our building and gives them an understanding of what we do. We take on that challenge of engaging people and educating people and it’s something I know we can do. Not only CAN we do it, we HAVE to do it,” says Hamelin.

Ryan Ohashi recently spoke to Hamelin about the success of the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary and its refreshed identity. Below are excerpts from this conversation. 

Q: When we see you at an event you are always so upbeat — where does that energy come from?

A: To me an international event in our community is a special moment not only for us as an organization, but for our athletes. From generation to generation the organization is a constant, but the athletes are always changing. For them it truly is a unique moment. Creating something that is amazing where we see athletes from all over the world being amazed about being here and having that experience — we feel it. I feel it.

The challenge then is taking and using it very positively and then bridging the environment we are working with in our building, in our community, in our city, this is the energy we are working with. Every single event, every race, every athlete is different from one to the other. We create new context and this is always our objective — to create that feeling for everyone who uses our facility.

Q: It’s been an eventful first few years here. As the director of the Olympic Oval, what are some of the highlights for you?

A: The first year here we worked very hard at seeing where we were at and we set very clear goals on where we were going. In the past year we have seen several of these things come to life. We were able to establish the new Athlete Pathway, our elite athlete identification and development system, in partnership with Speed Skating Canada, and are starting to see success with not just the veteran athletes, but athletes whom we have brought up through the system. We continued to improve our infrastructure with our fan enhancement project. This made it possible to host events like our first 2016 ISU World Cup Short Track event since 2012 by remaining a game-ready environment. Now we see ourselves continuing to progress forward with a new image and dedication to our relentless pursuit of excellence.   

Q: When you say progress forward, is the revitalized identity a part of that?

A: Of course! Although we always hold the utmost respect and reverence for our history, we knew it was time for a refresh. It was through development of our marketing and analysis of our audiences that we were shocked to find that a large portion of the local population, despite knowing who are, actually had no idea where we were located. It’s not their fault, this is an Olympic city and we are one of the few facilities worldwide that has the honour of carrying the word “Olympic” in its title. However, it can be confusing with so many facilities and venues in one place. We know how essential it is for the Olympic Oval to present a unique, memorable and easily recognizable visual identity that links its place within the University of Calgary and clears up any confusion about where it is located.

Q:  Take us through the refreshed identity.

A: It is the result of a very thorough process. The refreshed Olympic Oval identity leverages and respects its university and faculty ties, yet maintains a strong and compelling presence in the competitive market for high-performance ice training venues around the world. With a nod to some of the original graphic elements, we are respecting our longstanding legacy. The red colour in the refreshed identity emphasizes our place within the University of Calgary and the Canadian national teams. This, combined with the “at the University of Calgary” subtext, leaves no question as to our location. The system was created in-house at the university and tested broadly with our athletes before being finalized.

Q: What can you say about the Olympic Oval’s legacy with the University of Calgary?

A: If we go back to before the Olympic Games, then-Dean Roger Jackson had the vision of connecting the Olympic Oval to the university so that it would become an asset for the faculty and create a legacy for the university to support student athletes. Obviously it was a great decision to combine this international asset within the university, as it has created such a positive environment. Education takes a significant place as a buildup to a person’s career — I feel that this is totally aligned with basic principles that should be seen in the sport system as well. So having that vision of integrating the Oval as a facility into our faculty aligned well with this aspect in the life of an athlete.

Q: What makes the Oval unique?

A: I think this facility is a hub for all sorts of activities. There were expectations from the start and though we have seen that some ideas change over time and the nature or the use of the facility change, what hasn’t changed over the years is that the three-pillar philosophy that was implemented from the very beginning has been followed, well managed and kept as it was. Today, we have a large community that still has this venue in their backyard and use it — something that is truly unique. Every time I talk to people from all over the world — they are always amazed at how the venue has been maintained for nearly three decades and how it is still an international asset for high performance, a community centre for the university community, and a varsity training centre as well.  

Q: What did the Olympic Oval mean to the National team?

A: The Olympic Games gave our country this facility as a tool for our national team athletes. Ten years later we saw the improvement and the success in the national team program in 1998 and 2002. This place was and is a game-changer — from there on we became a home of Speed Skating Canada and we still are. They took advantage of the oval for the last 30 years and it created an environment where the athletes expect great conditions for training in all aspects, not just the ice but everything that goes into the athlete’s training. It is all here for them at all levels.

Q: What is your favourite part of a competition?

A: I have had the chance to develop a deep knowledge of the sport. What it takes, from a fitness standpoint, a technical standpoint and from a strategy standpoint — it’s a lot! Any athlete who competes at the international level represents a lot of things that need to be developed over time. We are helping them reach their goals; seeing Jamie Macdonald skating at 42.90 seconds in the 500m in the last World Cup event in Korea … wow!

There are not many women in the world who can skate faster than 43 seconds — and seeing that she has put together what it took to race at that level, that is unique. Seeing her fighting in that final at that speed and be competitive is a clear achievement. I appreciate the sport for what it is and I know everything that goes into getting an athlete from their beginnings all the way to the Olympic team.  

It’s our challenge in Canada to get fans to connect to the sport and connect to the athletes, know the sport and what it is. A simple change in our image makes us more accessible, it gets the public into our building and understanding what we do. We take on that challenge of engaging people and educating people and it’s something I know we can do, not only CAN we do it, we HAVE to do it.