Bruny Surin, Canada’s Chef de Mission at the Paris Olympics

Q. Congratulations on your appointment. How did you hear the news and what was your reaction?

A. I’m thrilled. I can’t stop dancing. It’s sick! I was on a conference call with the Canadian Olympic Committee and that’s how I found out. For me it was already party!

I could tell it was on my bucket list since a long time. Since my retirement [en 2002], I have always wanted to pass on to the next generation and be part of the Olympic movement. I’ve always wanted to get involved in sports. And there, to be the head of mission, the spokesperson, the cheerleading athletes, it’s crazy.

In the next two years, I want to go see the competitions if I want to know the athletes. I don’t just want to come to Paris to just talk aboutsuch or of such sport. I want to have athlete history up to 2024. I won’t lie, it’s a big big big giveaway, but it’s work I’m going to take very seriously.

Q. Normally, the appointment of a chef de mission is done one year before the Olympic Games. This time, it happens two years before. What will this extra year allow you to accomplish?

A. I love it, and even prefer it, because I think I will have more time to learn about the athletes. It’s gonna be like a build up. We talk a lot about the environment of the athlete, and I want to make sure, with the COC as well, that we are there for the athletes. We will tell the athletes: What do you need, from now on, so that you arrive in Paris and be the best of yourselves? Not necessarily in the sense that they need to win a medal, but rather that they are able to perform as best they can. And for me to be a part of that is a bonus.

What I also told the COC is that during the Youth Games in 2018, I had the chance to talk to several coaches and several parents. I’m also a parent, I’m also a parent of athletes who were hoping to go to the Games, and I know that side. On the coaching side, I’ve had it personally all my life, I’ve taken coaching classes, so I understand what it’s like to train, the struggles they face, injuries, etc.

And if we also want to talk about the side business of the Olympic movement, more broadly, I have been an athlete’s agent and I am in business, and therefore I can have a conversation with everyone there. I want to add my two cents, I want to advise and I will encourage as best I can so that we have great Olympic Games.

Q. Does the fact that the next Games are taking place in Paris also weighed in the balance?

A. Of course. In Paris, it couldn’t have been better, and it wasn’t a whim. I had been thinking about it for ten years already. And by accepting the role in 2018, I thought it was a first step, a first springboard for the Olympics. It’s a goal achieved, and I’m going to do my best.

Q. How do you see your role in the current context, after two years of COVID and a possible return to normal in 2024?

A. We are not out of COVID yet. It is certain that we project ourselves in Paris and we want it to be as normal as possible, we visualize it, but we are in a transition at the moment. We are talking about removing the mask right now, but there are still negative effects, and we are not 100% out of it yet.

Yes, there will be more vulnerable athletes, and that’s why the message I want to share with them is that if they have any concerns, whether in training or otherwise, I am available for them. That they can email me or message me on social media and I can advise them.

For me, it’s giving back. I published on my blog a text called What is my medal for? Regardless of the medium, I want to push people in the right direction. And with athletes, that will be it. I too have been there. Me too as an athlete, at the beginning, I didn’t have any money. I tried to enter competitions and they closed the doors to me.

All of these are things that I have experienced and I can share them and have this conversation with the athletes. An Olympic experience during which everything is going well, I lived it. Olympic Games that didn’t go well, I also experienced them, and that’s all I want to share with them from now on.

Bruny Surin raises his arms in the air after passing the baton to Donovan Bailey in the 1996 4x100m final in Atlanta.

Photo: Reuters/Oleg Popov

Q. What role did Chefs de Mission have when you yourself were an Olympic athlete in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000?

A. The role of chef de mission as we know it today, I saw it happen more in 1996. Yes, we had the Athletics Canada team with us, but on the preparation side, we had spoken with the COC to tell them that as a relay team, we wanted to have a place of our own to work on our team spirit.

We managed to create that environment and boom, we got the gold medal. That’s why we have to ask the athletes what they need. And our job is to try to make it as accessible as possible. If it’s possible, we’ll do our best to give them what they need.

Q. Do you see yourself as a conduit between the athletes and the COC?

A. Yes. In the past, we said that there were the athletes, the federations and the COC. They formed three distinct entities, and the language was often not the same between them. I’m not here to be a preacherbut when these entities become one, we will have, in my opinion, more medals, more healthy environments [pour les athlètes] and we will speak the same language.

Me, when I was there in 1988 and even in 1992, it was practically every man for himself. But quietly, we see rapprochements, and my job will be to try to bring them closer together.

Q. You mentioned it earlier, you were Canada’s Chef de Mission at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in 2018. How did that experience influence your decision to take up the slack again for the Olympic Games? Paris?

A. I enjoyed my experience very much. First, to go see the different disciplines. I’m a sports guy, love to learn and love to see behind the scenes. I like having the role of spectator who also knows what is happening on the pitch. Having access to these athletes, without going too far into their bubble, for me, is a gift. It’s like being part of their team, it’s like going to the Olympics with them and being part of that movement, with Canadian pride. It’s crazy! These are like my fifth Games.

Q. Have you spoken with previous Canadian Heads of Mission to discuss their experiences and the role you will have to play? Who are your mentors?

A. I saw them a little more from the outside, for example when they were speaking and when they attended competitions. I am thinking of Isabelle Charest, Nathalie Lambert, Sylvie Bernier and Curt Harnett. And I’ve already told the Canadian Olympic Committee that I was going to call them one by one to tell me how it was, what they liked, what they didn’t like, their good experiences.

And I am going to take all these tools and use them to make a better job Again. I really want to know what they went through from the inside, and I will do that over the next few weeks.

Q. What would you like to improve about this function and your role as head of mission?

A. I would like the athletes to see that it is not Mr. Surin, I would rather like the athletes to call me Bruny. I don’t want it to become cliché and the world think I want to be their friend, but I want athletes to say to themselves: Whatever happens, Bruny is available for me. I want to be a good spokesperson for the COC.

Q. There is also a political aspect that comes with the role of head of mission. Is this something you are willing to deal with?

A. Absolutely. At the same time, I also told them that it is not a role of puppet which I accept. Yes, there is a course of action, but I don’t want to be a puppet. There are things I will discuss with the COC, but I also talked about my vision.

He holds a microphone in his right hand on a stage.

Bruny Surin

Photo: Radio-Canada / Elvis Nouemsi

Q. Are you happy with your journey and your position within the Canadian Olympic Movement?

A. I am very grateful. I like to help and I do it with my foundation which works with young people. I give because life gives me a lot too. Everything I learned in sport with my coaches and my parents, I would like to have the chance to share with young people and entrepreneurs.

When I was still running, I thought it would be nice to be able to do conferences, and I’m into that. It’s been 20 years since I retired. And again yesterday, people were talking to me about the 1996 Olympic Games.

Yes, we worked for that, but life gives me so much… like the gift of becoming a mission leader. It’s good to receive, but it’s good to give too.

Q. You will have to give up your role of analyst in the media to be the head of mission of the Canadian delegation. Do you have a twinge in your heart? I imagine you won’t be able to refrain from giving your predictions when the athletics events get under way?

A. It is sure and certain! Of course I’m going to get wet. [Rires] I’m going to be a little careful, but for sure I’m going to get wet. Of course I love being on television, making predictions and all that.

There, I’ll be a spectator, and even if I like it, it’s not something I’m going to miss. It will be another challenge. I turn the page for these Games. And for the following, it may be something else. We’ll see.

Q. Marnie McBean made an impact with her Squamish Nation drumming at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Have you ever thought about what you’re going to do?

A. Of course there will be something, but what, I don’t know yet. [Rires].

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Bruny Surin, Canada’s Chef de Mission at the Paris Olympics

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