Hayley Wickenheiser running for election to the International Olympic Committee

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

CALGARY – Hayley Wickenheiser wants to be in on decisions that impact Olympic athletes all over the world, so she’s running for election to the International Olympic Committee.

The captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team is one of nine athletes vying for two positions representing winter sport on the IOC for eight-year terms.

Wickenheiser has competed in five Olympics, helping the women’s hockey team to three gold medals and one silver, as well as playing for Canada’s softball team at the Summer Games in 2000.

All athletes competing at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February are eligible to vote.

“As an athlete, you sit at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to policy changes and making changes,” Wickenheiser said Friday in Calgary.

“To get athletes actually at the board level, athletes are the ones that really know what changes need to made at the Olympics. The Games are about the athletes.

“It’s a very cool opportunity to take those voices forward and know you could potentially make change that could affect the Olympic Games and thousands of athletes around the world. It’s quite a powerful position in the sense that you actually have a vote that counts and your voice counts.”

The two winners will succeed Canadian cross-country skier Beckie Scott and hockey player Saku Koivu of Finland, whose terms will expire in February. Wickenheiser, a native Shaunavon, Sask., says it was Scott who suggested she let her name stand.

Four-time World Cup downhill title winner Didier Cuche of Switzerland is also standing for election.

Four others are alpine skiers: Austrian-born Kilian Albrecht for Bulgaria; Ana Jelusic of Croatia; Tanja Poutiainen of Finland; and Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic.

Biathletes Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway and Darya Domracheva of Belarus, and Italian cross-country skier Pietro Piller-Cotter are also standing.

Wickenheiser is currently training full-time with the women’s team in Calgary as the players prepare for the Olympics. They’ll play almost 60 games prior to their departure for Sochi, so she will have little time for campaigning.

“What happens is the election occurs in the Olympic Village in the dining hall typically,” she explained. “I put together a video with the Canadian Olympic Committee and a little package with a bio.

“When athletes comes into the dining hall, they have people encouraging every athlete in the world to vote. Athletes talk amongst themselves and try to find out who would be good at that role.”

Wickenheiser, who turned 35 earlier this week, is the all-time leading scorer on the Canadian women’s hockey team and has played professional men’s hockey in Europe during her career.

She’s the lead player ambassador for the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Ambassador and Mentor program, which partners coaches and players around the world. Her Wickenheiser International Hockey Festival is in its fourth year.

Wickenheiser is a spokesperson for Right to Play, KidSport, Clean Air Champions and Plan International’s “Because I Am A Girl” campaign.

She’s often asked if she will retire after Sochi, but her answer has been she hasn’t decided yet. She completed her degree in kinesiology at the University of Calgary earlier this year and is applying to medical schools.

Wickenheiser has a son Noah, whom she adopted when she was in a relationship with Noah’s father Tomas Pacina.

She’s joined other athletes in criticizing Russia’s recent anti-gay laws.

“I think most athletes in the free world think it’s wrong what Russia has done,” Wickenheiser said recently. “The Olympics is really one of the only places in the world where people should be free to get along and perform in harmony.

“It’s about acceptance so it kind of goes against everything that the Olympics are about. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

— With files from The Associated Press.

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