Friday, December 9, 2016

Reflections on a Great Leader

The news of the Athletics Canada head coach, Peter Eriksson, being let go came as a complete shock to me. After having 4 of the most successful years in Canadian athletics history, Athletics Canada (AC) has decided to part ways with Peter. How does that make sense? I just wanted to give my thoughts on the matter and share my personal experience with Peter and other head coaches from the past.

I have been competing at the highest level in athletics since I was 17 years old, having competed in 4 World Racewalk Cups, 1 Pan American Games, 3 World Track and Field Championships, 1 Olympic Games and many other Canadian teams. I have to say that in all of these 13 years I have never had the individual attention from an Athletics Canada head coach like I have from Peter. Its not because I have been more successful these past few years. Simply in the past, the head coaches didn't even take the time to have a conversation with me while at a major championships. Peter not only talked to each athlete individually at the championships but in my experience, he followed up with me throughout the season.

My first experience with Peter came after having my daughter Isabella and competing at the 2014 World Racewalk Cup in China. I was shocked to see that the head coach would be travelling to China to help and watch us compete. When I met Peter there for the first time, I told him how impressed I was that he came and he responded by saying, "Of course I came". As if it was to be expected. This had never happened before. He made me feel very supported and like Athletics Canada actually cared about racewalking, the event that is definitely at the bottom of the totem pole in most athletic federations. He also watched every the racewalk races at Nationals every year which was not common for the AC head coach. He continued to impress me.

I understand that Peter has been controversial with some of his decisions but I feel like the general public gets outraged when they don't know all the facts. It is easy to listen to an athlete who is upset and contacts the media about something yet they don't explain the procedure in which the decision was made. They just say that it is unfair because of xyz. It definitely cannot be an easy job, like any other job of authority, tough decisions need to be made. I am sure that some decisions were made that truly were unfair and that is very unfortunate but overall as a program you cannot argue with the success.

I want to take a minute to talk about the carding situation. Every year people get outraged because specific athletes don't get carded. For example, this year most of Canada's top marathoners did not get carded. Many of the marathoners are very vocal in the media and because it is an easily understood event by the general public, people get upset that "how can you be the best in Canada and not get funding". It mostly bothers me because the marathon is only ONE event in track and field and Athletics Canada has to look at the whole athletics team as a whole and compare each athlete in each event based on their individual success. They cannot card an athlete who, for example, comes 25th at a major Championship just because they are the Canadian record holder and not card an athlete who performed higher and achieved the carding criteria. If they could give funding to every athlete on the team, I am sure they would BUT they are only given a certain number of cards per year from Sport Canada. They need to have guidelines to distribute those cards and unfortunately some people don't end up making the cut. I have been on the short end in the past, even competing at the Olympics in 2012 and not getting carded after that. I didn't perform well, what can I expect when others had performed well. Through my many years in the sport and dealing with Athletics Canada, I have come to a much better understanding on the whole system and why certain decisions end up being made. For me personally, it has pushed me to step up my game and be more successful.

I hope that moving forward that the media will contact more athletes in several different events in track and field for opinions instead of staying with the few voices that are repeatedly heard. As a whole, Canada's track and field team has been the most unified in these past few years under Peter than it has been in the decade before in my personal experience. As a whole, the athletes and coaches have had more input in decisions that impacted us throughout the season and I think that was reflected in performances. I hope that whoever takes over as head coach can continue these things moving forward.

I just wanted to thank Peter for his support and motivation throughout these last 3 years. I enjoyed getting to know him. He is a big family man and I appreciated that understanding being one of the few athletes on the national team who has a child. I wish Peter all the best in the future, I am sure he will be given many good opportunities as he truly is gifted at running a successful program.

Keep on walking,