Special Thanks to Sheila O’Kelly

Special Thanks to Sheila O’Kelly

By Masa Takaya on 07/01/11 at 11:45 pm

Sheila O’Kelly, Managing Director of ITU World Cups, has long played a crucial role in the development of our sport and chose to leave ITU at the end of 2010 to pursue new ventures.  ITU Secretary General Loreen Barnett contributed her memories of Sheila to honour her tireless work within triathlon.

My last thoughts of 2010 go to Sheila…..

2010 has been such a successful year for ITU, thanks to the committed efforts of an amazing staff under the wise guidance of the Executive Board.

Together we achieved:

  • a highly successful launch of the Sprint and Team events within the Olympic Family at the Youth Olympic Games;
  • another great World Championship Series and expansion of our partnership with Upsolut (we have become a really good team);
  • Paratriathlon’s acceptance on the programme of the Paralympics 2016;
  • new milestones with Continental Confederations engagement within Sport Development and a clear future for the World Cup events within that structure;
  • the introduction of the Athlete Biological Passport;
  • many more benchmarks for our sport.

But the closing hours of 2010 had my mind reeling with the thought of not having Sheila O’Kelly officially on our team as a senior staff member.  Of the many things Sheila leaves in her ITU Legacy Treasure Chest, the one that will endure for many years has to be our “look and feel”.

For those of you who know Sheila, you’ll understand how her fiery Irish heritage comes to the fore when principles of sport or the ITU brand or logo is concerned.  It is almost as if she has become the self-appointed ITU Ombudsman to safeguard our logo and our look and feel.  To explain this fully, we need to return to the steps of the Sydney Opera House in 2000 – the dawn of a new millennium and the debut of the young, charismatic sport of Triathlon on the programme of the Olympic Games.

We were fortunate to have Sheila on Team ITU in Sydney in 2000.  The key element of the Triathlon in those Games, besides the stunning performance of the athletes, was the Sydney branding and the installation—for the first time—of the blue carpet in the transition area and finish chute.  The look and feel of those two wonderful events, held in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, will linger in our minds and souls forever.

Sheila, like all of us, was pretty dazzled by the spectacle of the women diving into the pristine water of Farm Cove to kick off the new millennium.  As luck would have it, she was so dazzled she captured the images from the event and took up the challenge of recreating a similar world class stage for the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton the following year.


(Left to Right) Loreen Barnett, ITU Secretary General; Leslie Buchanan, ITU Anti-doping Director; and Sheila O’Kelly at 2004 Athens Games

One might be forgiven for thinking the idea of duplicating the look and feel of the Sydney Olympic Games Triathlon, on the shores of a duck pond in Hawrelak Park, Edmonton, was somewhat lofty.  True confessions! That thought did occur to me for sure.  But not only did Sheila and the Edmonton team strive for that same look and feel, they set a new standard and proved that a relatively small prairie community with a big heart and soul could establish a lasting impact on the expectations from all participants and stakeholders.

Shortly after that Sheila enlisted the support of Ed Rice, former head of ITU TV and Media, Stephen Bourdeau, former ITU Media Manager and Morgan Inglis, ITU Digital Producer to create our first Branding Guidelines.  The essential elements of this document are embedded in the requirements for ITU events today which are used at all levels from Continental Cups to World Championship Series events.

Once in charge of the World Cup Series, Sheila was able to make a broader impact on ITU’s look and feel.  The classic change took place in 2002 when Hamburg joined the World Cup Series.  It was already a big City Man event with a huge age-group race and was staged right under their impressive city hall.  Within two years of the first World Cup event, the look and feel had moved from a dominantly green look (not particularly television friendly) to the signature blue carpet and an ITU look.  By the time Hamburg hosted the 2007 World Championships, the transformation was complete and another milestone was achieved in setting the stage for a world class event.

Although the 2001 World Championships embraced the look and feel of the Sydney Olympic Games, it did something else for the first time.  Under Sheila’s leadership, the Edmonton team ensured the experience for the age-group athletes was second to none in terms of the quality of the competition, the pre and post celebrations and the swag.  The value of the experience for the age-group athletes was created for its own right and not a means of balancing the event budget.  This was another first for ITU which has been duplicated only a couple of times since.

In true Sheila style, she recently forwarded me a link to an online Canadian newspaper which had proclaimed John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, as the #1 National Builder for 2010 as a result of the tremendous success of the Games for all of Canada.  I was most interested in his response to “what’s next – how do you do anything else in your life that beats your achievement with the Olympic Games?”  His response surprised me: “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life comparing what I’m doing now to what I did then.  I want to use the Games as a base for something I might do in the future.”

My response to Sheila about the Furlong story was, “let’s replace VANOC with ITU and John Furlong with Sheila O’Kelly.  Work with me to “use your legacy within ITU as a base for something you might do in the future.”

Sheila’s role as a senior staff of ITU heavily involved in the day-to-day task of implementing the vision of the Executive Board has ended and she will be taking up new challenges with the Edmonton Triathlon Academy and the World Cup there.  However, I believe she will stay close to us and continue to ensure that we stand fast to the principles of Olympic sport and to ITU’s look and feel in a world that is continually being drawn towards the value of commerce at the expense of the value of quality lifestyle and the ideal of sport.  Stay tuned!

Loreen Barnett, Secretary General of ITU

Responses to "Special Thanks to Sheila O’Kelly"

Tracker Pixel for Entry