By Stuart Miller-Davis
Seyi Smith has never been one to back away from a challenge.
Originally from Nigeria, Smith was shy of 10 years old when he moved to Ottawa. It was while attending the south-end Fielding Drive Public School that he introduced to the Ottawa Lions by a teacher.
From there, Smith said he had all he needed to reach the highest level in the first sport to take him to the Olympic Games.
“I was fortunate enough to have a supporting family and a supporting club like the Lions that gave me everything I needed to excel, from good coaching, to access to competitions in Canada and outside of Canada as well,” Smith said.
“I would say the environment was really conducive to me doing a good job in my sport and eventually becoming an Olympian.”
His first Olympics was London 2012, where he ran as a member of Canada’s 4x100m relay team. In the finals for the event, the Canadian team placed 3rd behind Usain Bolt’s Jamaican team and the Americans, but Canada was disqualified within minutes of finishing because of a lane violation.
Six years later Smith would have a chance at redemption. He’d follow in the footsteps of fellow Ottawa-implant Glenroy Gilbert by returning to the winter variation of the Games in a bobsled.
For Smith, the transition from sprinting to sledding was an easy one. However, he once again left the Olympics without a medal, finishing in 6th place as a part of Canada’s four-man bobsled team.
Now, with future Olympic Games on-ice for at least the time-being, Smith’s career in sports has evolved into a third iteration: one of leadership.
He’s currently the chair of the Canadian Olympic Commission’s (COC) Athletes’ Commission. The purpose of the commission is to represent Canada’s Olympians to the COC.
Having been a part of the Athletes’ Commission in lesser roles before his election to chair in 2018, Smith talked about one bringing an understanding perspective to the role.
“It’s taught me of the sacrifices and the time coaches make and the medical staff and the administrators who run organizations,” Smith said. “It taught me how the COC as an organization is pretty unique in Canada just by the brilliance of the people who lead it.”
Having been chosen for the chairman role, Smith is bucking a trend in Canada of few people of colour filling top jobs for Canadian sports organizations. Recognizing these disparities is a good first step, Smith said.
“People say diversity is a strength when it comes to how you run an organization,” said Smith, who added that he likes to approach issues of discrimination in sports by giving people the benefit of the doubt.
“When we talk about institutionalized racism and athletes combatting narrow sports organizations – whatever situation we’re in – we have to start off by (believing) everybody’s doing the best they can,” he said.
“And to hear people out: That often gets you to a fair and balanced solution.”