Nolan Thiessen has gone from decorated athlete to Canadian curling’s big chair.
The 43-year-old from Pilot Mound, Man., was introduced Wednesday as Curling Canada’s chief executive officer. He replaces Katherine Henderson who departed in August to become Hockey Canada’s CEO. Danny Lamoureux served as interim CEO.
Thiessen is a world champion and three-time Canadian champion who became athlete liaison for Curling Canada after he retired from competition in 2016.
He was hired by the national governing body of the sport two years later and most recently served as executive director of marketing and fan experience.
“When I stopped playing seven and a half years ago, I wanted to work in the sport,” Thiessen said Wednesday. “I wanted to make it better than it was when I first started.”
Thiessen, who grew up in Brandon, Man., played a prominent role in the operation of Calgary’s 2021 curling bubble, in which seven major national and international tournaments were held under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and without fans.
“People asked what my most proud moment was in the sport of curling, and most people would think it was winning a world championship or Brier. It was running that bubble,” Thiessen said. “If we didn’t do that, the sport wasn’t wasn’t going to be played that year. From a Curling Canada standpoint, we didn’t have to lay anybody off, everybody kept their jobs, everybody kept working, right. That was huge through the pandemic. Definitely that experience really, really transformed my career and brought me a long ways out of playing and into the business and the admin side of the sport.”
Thiessen played lead for Kevin Koe, who claimed national and world titles in 2010 as well as the 2014 Brier. Thiessen also played lead for Pat Simmons when that foursome won the 2015 Brier in Calgary.
After serving on the World Curling Federation’s Athlete Commission for more than five years, he joined the WCF’s competition and rules commission a year ago. Thiessen, a University of Manitoba commerce grad, is a chartered accountant.
Curling has changed dramatically in recent years with the addition of mixed doubles to an already crowded curling calendar.
Multiple rule and tournament format changes, the loss of curling clubs to closure across the country and the need to attract new Canadians also fall under Thiessen’s purview.
“It just means there’s so many more conversations to be had,” Thiessen said. “I dove into all those areas over the last seven years.”
The world has caught up to Canadian curlers. World championship and Olympic gold medals are much harder to win.
Curling Canada raised eyebrows by going outside the country to hire Scotland’s David Murdoch as new high-performance director in February 2023 during Henderson’s tenure.
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“You’re not going to find anybody who wants to beat everybody more at the world championships than I do,” Thiessen said. “It’s harder now, so it’s going to mean more. Last summer, especially with David’s hire, we really sat back and said ‘what do we have to do to win more medals?’ You win medals in July and August and September and October with work that nobody ever sees. That’s really what our athletes and our high-performance coaches have really got into.”
Curling Canada’s hiring committee and an external agency SRI conducted the search for Henderson’s replacement. Thiessen was chosen from a group of 13 candidates.
“We said at the beginning of this process that we would leave no stone unturned, and that we would take the time to make sure we do this right, and I firmly we believe we did with Nolan Thiessen,” Curling Canada board chair Michael Szajewski said Wednesday in a statement. “He has played an integral role in helping our organization move forward over the past few years, and his vision is completely in line with the board’s on what needs to happen to continue this forward progress.”
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