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Interview With the CCA\’s Sean O’Donnell

June 20, 2008 (Val di Sole, Italy) – Pedal caught up with Sean O’Donnell, CCA Manager of High Performance Programs, on site at the UCI MTB World Championships after the U23 Men’s XC competition. He’s very pleased with the Canadian riders’ performances so far and is optimistic for this weekend’s races. This is his last project with the CCA, as he has accepted a new position with Sport Canada that starts later this summer. Pedal also asked for more details on the 2008 Beijing Olympic/Paralympic selections announced recently, especially the controversy in the selection of the third women’s road spot.

What are your thoughts on the 2008 MTB Worlds so far?
Sean O’Donnell: I’m actually very pleased with the way things have been going. We’ve had strong performances. I’m very pleased with the team relay, Emily Batty showed she could better her 10th place from last year, and Raphaël Gagné delivered today. The biggest surprise is probably Bianca Adolf’s sixth place in the Junior Women’s race. With juniors, you never know what to expect. Sometimes they can be really strong, or they can get overwhelmed by the experience. With our Junior Men, they were a little bit overwhelmed. There were over 100 guys on the start line – it’s a whole different scene from the Canada Cups.

For the Juniors, it was an opportunity for them to come here, get experience and see what Worlds are all about. Maybe next year they can come back again as Juniors or U23 and they’ll know what to expect.

What are your expectations for the remaining races?
SO: For the weekend – our women have been so strong at World Cups. Marie-Hélène Prémont was on the podium at all five events, Catharine Pendrel has consistently been in the top 10, and Kiara Bisaro – when she’s healthy – is capable of solid top 10 rides too. Marie-Hélène [Prémont] is definitely one of the favourites for the win, and Catharine [Pendrel] and Kiara [Bisaro] have the potential and ability to deliver strong performances.

The men on the team are an interesting mix. Geoff Kabush and Seamus McGrath have lots of experience. They’ve been racing World Cups this season and they’ve both shown that they can ride with the best. As for Max Plaxton, it’s his first foray into the elite world. He’s going in with no big expectations and is taking this as an opportunity to ride with a very deep, talented field of riders. Derek Zandstra is a rider looking to make the jump to the next level. He’s raced a lot in North America and took it upon himself to go to Europe to race World Cups in the spring. I think it was a good experience for him to have a strong performance here in the Team Relay at Worlds.

Can you tell us what’s going on with the third Olympic Women’s Road Team spot?
SO: I can’t really say much until the situation is resolved. The selection committee made the team decision Monday night and told the girls right away on Tuesday, although it hadn’t been officially announced yet. Between Tuesday and Thursday one of the athletes not selected filed an appeal. Alex [Wrubleski] and Leigh [Hobson] have already been pre-selected based on their performances at the World Cups. The third position is the committee choice spot.

Can you tell me who filed the appeal?
SO: No, I can’t say anything until the issue has been resolved and made public.

Who is making the decision, what’s involved in the process, and what kind of a timeline are we looking at?
SO: An independent arbitrator has been brought in. The final deadline for Olympic registration is July 13, but I think it’s going to happen quickly. I imagine the process will be completed well before. I can’t give you any details about the process itself.

How about the other Olympic selections for track and BMX? When will the official team announcements be made?
SO: The Track and women’s BMX teams will be announced on June 23, the MTB team will probably be announced on June 25 and the men’s BMX team announcement will come on July 13. The final Paralympic team will be announced on June 30.

Tell us about your new job.
SO: I’m moving on to Sport Canada to a position in a sport support division, where I’ll be working with six to eight Canadian sport federations, as the government contact for those federations. I’ll be branching out into different areas that I haven’t been involved with in the CCA, which I’m excited about.

How do you feel about leaving the CCA?
SO: It’s hard to leave, although when I started with the CCA, I never thought I’d stay with cycling for seven years. There have been lots of ups and downs and challenges. I’ve worked with some great people. But most important, have been my relationships with the athletes. My priority has always been servicing athletes and being there to answer any questions they have. The part I’m going to miss most is the relationships with the amazing athletes we have here in Canada.

Will you still be working directly with athletes in your new position?
SO: No, I will have no more contact with athletes. It’s a different organization, so I’m essentially cutting ties with the CCA.

What made you decide to look for a new job?
SO: After seven years, I wanted to step back and look at where to go next. I always thought Sport Canada was a place that I might like to be involved with. I’m branching out with different sports, but it’s still a way for me to stay involved with sport. I certainly didn’t see myself leaving the CCA to be a banker or something.

MTB Worlds Notes:

– James Barton (Can) won bronze in the UCI World Trials Championships in the Junior Men’s 20″ division yesterday.
– Geoff Kabush is feeling much better after suffering from the “Team Cold” as he calls the bug that Kiara Bisaro is still suffering from.
РMarie-H̩l̬ne Pr̩mont just arrived today and was heading out for her first reconnaissance lap of the course.

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