“Good for our soul as a nation”

BY MARY CHAPMAN, King's communications

Chris Overholt has spent more than 20 years of his career in the professional and high-performance sports industry. He has worked with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers. He is currently CEO and Secretary General of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COO).

Chris graduated from King’s in 1987 with a Bachelor of Arts in History.

It did not come as a surprise to him that he did not base his career around his major. “I certainly didn’t go to University with the mindset that I’m going to gather up my professional posture around [history], I thought of taking this time for me to study things I was interested in.”

Chris’s degree from King’s helped him gain many of the transferable skills organizations look for. “My history degree really set me up well, primarily, to be a good communicator. In business you need to have confidence around the spoken and written word. Mostly you need to be confident in front of people. The liberal arts education that I enjoyed at King’s helped me get on a good road.”

Having worked directly with professional athletes in the NBA, NFL and NHL, and now high-performing Olympic athletes, Chris discusses what makes Canadian athletes unique. “They are very, very relatable. I think that has a lot to do with who we are as a people, and a little bit to do with the size of our population. It’s often the case that we are not so many layers removed from either knowing one of our Olympians directly or knowing someone who knows one of our athletes. They are who we are — they are us. I think that makes it different than say, the United States who is ten times our size, I just don’t think it feels the same.”

Similarly, Chris believes the brand of Canada has never been stronger. “Whether it’s the great reverence most countries have for our strong and established banking system, our overall standard of living or just who we are as a people. We’re seen to be leaders, we’re seen to be conveners of agenda, and we’re seen to be on the front-end of important issues of the day related to matters of inclusion and diversity. I think it’s a really wonderful time to be Canadian and it’s been equally a wonderful time to be leading an organization like this one at a time when the country and brand of Canada is so very strong.”

Chris joined the COO shortly after Canada’s success in the 2010 Vancouver games. “The way Canadians think about the Olympic movement and its importance changed in Vancouver and has only grown in significance since. That support has in many ways fueled our success. Athletes look at the Vancouver Games and are inspired. John Furlong said it best, ‘Vancouver was an exercise in nation-building’ and I think we’re all still riding that momentum. Our posture as a nation and as a people has changed. That essence that came out of the Vancouver Games still lives in our people. Our goal is to keep that fire burning.”

Though he has been part of a number of wonderful organizations, Chris says that working at the COO has been the best job he’s ever had.  “The Olympic Games remain the only singular event (barring perhaps the World Cup) that the entire world pauses for. Warring nations actually stop so that we can all compete in the spirit of fair play and peace. I think that’s a unique thing for the world today. I could not be more proud to be attached to something of that significance for the world — not just our country. It’s good for our soul as a nation to see our athletes compete and win.”

Speaking of the team at the COO, Chris says, “We have 100 of the most passionate Canadians you could find anywhere, working across the country, and travelling to set up our operations in cities like Pyeongchang, Korea; Sochi, Russia; Rio, Brazil and soon Tokyo, Japan. I am amazed every day at the work that they do and the passion they bring.

Talking about the future of Canada’s Olympic team, Chris says, “If you combine our winter and summer total medals won we are eighth in the world. Eighth of 206 Olympic nations. That’s great! And we can be better. Our athletes would tell you that they believe they can be better and want to be better. Our job is to make sure that they are as well-resourced as can be to compete and win on the world stage. That’s what gets us up every day.”

The next Olympic Games will be held in Pyeongchang, Korea in 2018.

This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the King's Herald