March 31, 2023
Oval speedskater becomes world champion after joining Elite Pathway Program
Olympic Oval-based Carolina Hiller flew through the long-track speedskating season, breaking her 500m personal best and smashing the team sprint national record to help her team take gold at the world championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands, in early March.
She credits her success to the Oval Elite Athlete Pathway Program, which provides high-performance coaching and training to long-track and short-track athletes.
After joining the program in 2022, Hiller began trying new training techniques under coach Kevin Crockett, breaking into the “37-Second Club” for the 500m at the Calgary World Cup in December 2022. The 37-Second Club is how fast it takes a skater to skate 500m; it is recognized as a milestone for female athletes in speedskating.
Hiller admires Crockett’s eye for technique and his confidence in her. Since joining his group, her skating skills improved due to his coaching.
Since the season began, Hiller broke the track record at the Canadian Long Track Championships in Quebec City, which led her to the 2022-23 world cup circuit and her eventual team victory in March alongside fellow Oval-trained skaters Brooklyn McDougall, BSc'21, and Ivanie Blondin. However, Crockett could not join her on the circuit since she transitioned from the Oval program to the national team; he continued to coach her online from Calgary.
By comparison, Hiller did not have a good 2021-22 skating season.
“I feared I had hit my peak in the sport, despite feeling that I had more to give,” she says.
Fighting depression and dreading the start line, Hiller pushed herself throughout the next season to prove she could do it.
“I am really proud of myself and my dedication towards my training. It was never about proving I was good enough to anyone else. I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough and wasn’t done with the sport yet,” she says.
Hiller has had a vast support team cheering her on throughout her speedskating career. The 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics inspired her mom, and, when Hiller was four, her mom strapped speedskates on her and sent her off to learn the sport. To this day, Hiller calls her mom her lucky charm, as every time she is in the audience, Hiller skates her best. With her friends and family by her side, she receives support representing Canada and her hometown, Prince George, B.C.
Oval Athlete Bursary helps Hiller
Hiller had lost her funding going into the 2022-23 season and began stressing about how she could afford to continue her skating career with training and travel fees approaching. She applied for and received the Olympic Oval Athlete Bursary. The bursary is for "non-carded" athletes; any Oval pathway skater that applies is eligible. Athletes become carded for various reasons, primarily when they join the national team. It signifies that they have received funding for representing the country.
The fund is meant to alleviate financial strains on Canadian high-performance athletes and their families. Since 2005, the bursary has awarded more than $200,000 to 150 athletes, supporting their journey to the national level.
“The bursary could not have come at a better time; I was scrambling to get my money together to start the season. It allowed me to continue to skate another season and to focus on my skating,” says Hiller.
Oval receives a donation for the Athlete Bursary
On March 19, the Oval announced the largest one-time donation, $100,000, to its Athlete Bursary from the Organizing Committee Calgary (OCC). OCC is a volunteer-based organization that bids for, plans, and hosts speedskating events within Alberta.
“The Olympic Oval is extremely grateful for the donation from the Organizing Committee Calgary," says Oval director Mark Messer. “Our focus is on the athletes and with the hope that this will help them reach their next step to making the national team.”
After a season of realizing her potential, Hiller has decided to continue with speedskating, with hopes of making her way to the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Olympics.