By Ryan Ohashi
“Put some sauce on it!” has become the phrase of the day for speed skater Olivier Jean.
The gold medallist, two time Olympian and national team veteran is quickly finding his groove and wants to ramp up the speed on the Oval`s inline treadmill. After a few close calls including one near disaster to kick things off - Jean literally `finds his stride` and is back to what he does best – train and excel.
Jean is a natural athlete and throughout his career he has proven that he has the ability to adjust and adapt much like this first experience on the treadmill. A veteran of the Canadian national team he continues to dive into new experiences and new technology.
“I play a lot with all the new stuff, I like it, that’s what I do; I am in kinesiology in University (UQAM '15) so sports science and all the gear – I am kind of like a sports geek. Haha” says Jean following this latest adventure.
It`s easy to see where Jean’s reputation as one of the most outspoken characters on the national team comes from. He has an infectious laugh and a passion for the sport of speed skating. But this is a different Oliver Jean that we see beginning his third Olympic cycle… Gone are his signature dreadlocks from the 2010 games - replaced instead with a streamlined hair-cut and renewed focus. His Bob Marley t-shirt is replaced, if only for today, by the shirt of one of his sponsors – the aforementioned ‘gear’ he uses to monitor his workouts. Experiences both positive and negative have formed him – and now he is stronger and eager to help others along the way.
``I feel like I have been through every possible technical and mental challenge there is`` says Jean who has twice been sidelined by serious injury and was the target of a bizarre equipment tapering incident in 2011. However, instead of allowing himself to be caught up on these hiccups, Jean has reached a point in his career where he is comfortable in any situation. Something he makes the effort to pass on to many of the younger skaters with the national team who can now see him as a veteran presence.
`` That’s what experience brings. You can say I have been there and you can relate to younger athletes – like someone falling in like a final, I’ve done that like 100 times and I have been disqualified before. So it’s easier to talk to those younger skaters when maybe it’s their first time and just sharing how I felt about it and how you go through that and come back stronger. I feel I can share those experiences now.``
In sport we often speak to culture, history and being a part of something. Jean began his career looking up to some of the pioneers of short track speed skating. Not only does he have an appreciation for the sport he loves, but he also recognizes the unique position he is in as one of the sport’s elites in Canada.
``Short track, inline and long track skating have all been a part of my life for like 25 years now and I love the sport. I want keep the sport healthy and I want to keep that winning culture in Canada.`` says the 31 year old ``I remember key moments when I was young where Marc Gagnon would come to the rink or I would go see Fred Blackburn or I would meet Gaetan Boucher at an autograph session and it was a really key moment that ignited my passion with the sport``
That passion for the sport has led Olivier to what has already been an impressive career. Competing on the senior international circuit since 2006-07 – Jean made his Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010 where he captured gold as a member of the 5000m relay team. Perhaps inspired by that golden moment - He had a monster year in 2011-12 as he took home the overall World Cup title in the 500m, placed third in the World Cup 1000m standings and finished the year with a gold medal in the 500m at the 2012 World Championships.
“I’ve always seen it like there is the long term goal – the dream: Stepping up to the podium at the Olympic games. It felt good in Vancouver to win gold and I want to win again so that’s the dream I wake up thinking about that and go to bed thinking about but that’s a long term dream. “ says a the philosophical Jean moving from athlete to motivational speaker “There is always the everyday goals and every week goals and every month goals and those are never about the results they are always based on the process. It’s never winning here or winning there it’s all about what I can control in the process. This is especially in a sport like short track where there are so many other factors you CAN’T control so you need to ensure you stay in the process where you can control everything. “
Jean is a firm believer that he is improving every day by interacting with other athletes, young and old at the Olympic Oval. It’s his humble demeanor that has allowed him to learn from everyone he encounters. His hunger for knowledge matched only by his desire to achieve those long term dreams.
“Every day I can watch Russian skaters, Chinese skaters on the long track and I am watching my biggest opponent every day the Korean short track team haha… It’s great, it's good to learn from different athletes and also to be able to see all the U of C Dinos athletes, to see them training and see different styles of training it’s really positive and a winning feeling to the Oval and I like that. Even when I look around I can I come here every day and I see a 6:03 WR in the 5000M and I say that’s it, that’s what it takes.”
“You need to have the facility if you want your athletes to perform, I think one of the most important things is having heroes and people who achieved success be close to the younger athletes so they can relate and say ‘I can do it’” says Jean who took time out of his training schedule in Calgary to help out with the Olympic Oval Top Blade Camp and is always eager to offer advice to young teams of skaters.
“For those younger skaters to see people having success at the games every day makes it believable. It doesn’t seem impossible. They see you and are like ‘he’s doing it and he’s doing it here’ and that makes it more realistic I think. Sometimes you have an impossible goal or an impossible dream and it’s easy to give up. When you see people doing it, it seems closer and that’s what is good about the Oval.”
Jean sees the time spent with the younger athletes as a symbiotic relationship in a team oriented atmosphere. In a sport that often focuses so much on the individual – Jean stresses the importance working together as a team to Canada’s success.
“You learn a lot yourself when you teach people. When you spend some time helping younger kids you remember a lot and these kids have so much energy. That’s really good for me because I am getting older (haha) you know I want to keep racing and win for the next four years so I need to have that good energy that kind of teamwork is going to keep Canada at the top of speed skating.”