CALGARY — A decorated Canadian women’s hockey player has stepped to the helm of Alpine Canada.
Therese Brisson is the new president and chief executive officer of Canada’s governing body of skiing. She replaces Vania Grandi, who resigned in May just short of two and a half years in the job.
Brisson won an Olympic gold medal in 2002 in Salt Lake City, as well as a silver in 1998 when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan. The captain of the national team from 1999 to 2001 earned six world championship gold medals during her career.
A broken ankle and subsequent surgeries on it contributed to the defender’s retirement prior to the 2006 Winter Olympics.
“Still not an Olympic ankle, but that matters less in a ski boot,” Brisson told The Canadian Press.
The 53-year-old from Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., has worked as a sales and marketing executive for consumer product companies since retiring from hockey. She’s also been a director with the Canadian Olympic Committee and spent a decade serving as Own The Podium’s corporate secretary and treasurer.
Brisson takes over one of Canada’s largest sports organizations Aug. 4 during a pandemic wreaking havoc across global sport.
“The challenge of building the brand and the business all in service of helping our athletes and coaches be on the podium is something that’s very exciting and attractive to me,” Brisson said. “If it was a business-as-usual assignment, I don’t think I would have been as excited to join.”
Former world alpine champion Erik Guay is a member of Alpine Canada’s board.
Retired in 2018, the most decorated man in Canadian ski racing says Brisson brings both sport and business clout to table.
“We were looking for somebody who was very financially savvy, who has some good marketing repertoire,” Guay said. “Me personally, I was looking for somebody to lead us and I didn’t know what that would look like exactly. This has been a new process for me to interview candidates.
“I can say we interviewed quite a few. I can say Therese stood out from the crowd early on. The fact Therese is not coming from a competitive alpine skiing background, she understands what competitive sport looks like and she understands, most importantly, what winning looks like. That’s a big asset in winning over the athletes’ trust.”
Alpine Canada’s stated goal is to be a top-three skiing nation by 2026. Canada is already there in ski cross and para-alpine, but not yet in alpine racing.
“The timeline might be aggressive, but it’s something I think we should certainly aspire to,” Brisson said.
The Canadian ski team is shifting out of a pandemic hiatus with alpine skiers on the verge of returning to snow. Women’s team veteran Valerie Grenier travelled to Switzerland this week and others are expected to join her for the 2020-21 season.
“We have extensive health protocols in place, which among other things requires getting tested prior to leaving and upon arrival in Switzerland,” Guay said. “These aren’t mandatory trips. We told the athletes if they’re at all uncomfortable with travelling during these times, completely understandable.”
Whether they’ll get the chance to compete in international races at home is another pandemic question.
The men’s and women’s downhills in Lake Louise, Alta., in November and December are a staple on the World Cup calendar.
A World Cup ski cross at Nakiska Ski Resort west of Calgary originally scheduled for Jan. 16, 2021 no longer appears on the world governing body’s calendar. FIS has delayed decisions on next season’s schedule until mid-August.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, a lot of speculation what the season is going to look like, what’s going to be cancelled, what’s going to remain on the schedule,” Guay said. “We really have no idea what the coming season is going to look like.”
Brisson is undaunted by the turbulence.
“For all sport, not just alpine but certainly alpine, it’s going to be a season unlike any other we’ve had that’s for sure,” she said. “Not everyone signs up for this, but this is an important sport in our country.
“There will be financial challenges related to this, return to sport and training challenges and then there will be event challenges as well. It’s truthfully what I was looking for, the challenge.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2020.
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Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press