Montrealer Olga Hrycak has had a modest but full life thanks to her sport, basketball. Thus, she finds it hard to believe that she entered the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame at the same time as Martin St-Louis and Georges St-Pierre, among others.
“Martin St-Louis earns millions a year, we are not in the same category, ”says the 75-year-old woman with a laugh, assuring in the same breath that she has a deep respect for the hockey player who has become head coach of the Canadiens.
Her induction as a builder, which will take place this evening, “Madame Olga” did not steal her. For half a century, the coach has led basketball teams, primarily men's teams, to countless championships.
“It's absolutely impossible for me to choose the championship that has been the most important, she said. I remember very well the victory of 1981 with the Cavaliers team of the Champlain Regional College of Saint-Lambert. We had won the provincial championship, and the final had taken place at John Abbott. After the victory, everyone in the gym was shouting, “Ol-ga, Ol-ga, Ol-ga”! »
This was followed by seven championships with Dawson College, between 1988 and 2003, then she became the first woman in North America to lead a men's university team , or the Citadins de l'UQAM, who then launched their program.
“In our fourth year only, the Citadins were champions of Quebec, it was still incredible, she underlines about the conquest of 2006, which was followed by that of 2010. In this adventure, I must thank Daniel Méthot for having dared to call on me. I jumped at the chance, but I also cried when I left Dawson. It was an important page in my life that was turning. »
Beyond her role as a basketball coach, Olga Hrycak has had a career as an educational consultant in physical education for the English-Montreal School Board. This job meant that she couldn't be as involved as she would have liked with the Canadian men's basketball team at one time.
She was an assistant coach, alongside the legendary Jack Donohue, between 1984 and 1987. Otherwise, it was under the title of head of mission, a role which required less long absences from work, that she hid. Thus, she was able to continue to advise the national team during certain competitions, until the mid-1990s.
She rubbed shoulders with the legendary player Steve Nash, but also, among many others, Jay Triano, who wore the colors of the Canadian team before becoming same coach, notably for the Toronto Raptors between 2002 and 2011.
“I was in my thirties when I arrived with the national team, and from the start, Jack Donohue had warned me that I was not there to be seated in the stands, says the lady. He relied on me for defensive play. »
Through her many anecdotes, Olga Hrycak remembers a tournament played in Taiwan, where the head of mission had found herself squarely behind the bench because one of the assistants to the coach had refused to make the trip because of his fear of flying. It can't be invented!
Before being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Olga Hrycak has been a member of the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame since May 2017. This new honor bestowed upon her, however, comes at the top.
“There are no words to describe the emotions I am feeling,” she said. It's for all of Quebec and the other individuals who find themselves in the Sports Hall of Fame, they are champions with medals and everything. »
Medals, trophies, banners and championships, Olga Hrycak has a great collection of them herself.
Helping her players to jail
Beyond her exploits as a basketball coach, Olga Hrycak changed many lives. Not only did she get some young people off the street through sport, but more often than not she offered food or a pair of shoes to a player.
It was only natural for Mrs. Olga, now 75 years old, to act in this way. His great basketball players were like his own children.
Benevolent, the one who will be inducted into the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame this evening prefers not to name the individual in question, or even the year in which it happened. However, she displays her great kindness by mentioning that she has already visited one of her players in prison several times. Incarcerated in Cowansville, he had received a two-year sentence for having found himself, as a member of a street gang, at the scene of a murder.
“I spoke on his behalf to have his sentence reduced by at least a few months,” she said. Today, I know that things are going very well for him. I can't say if I saved the life of some, but I always wanted to help them. »
Thought for Ukraine
Greatly socially involved, Ms. Olga received, in 2005, the Thérèse-Daviau prize, awarded by the City of Montreal. His “significant” contribution to improving the quality of life of Montrealers was highlighted.
“I was always involved in my community and I liked to involve the guys who played basketball in my teams,” she says. It was a way for me to involve them in things other than basketball. »
Even in the last year, Olga Hrycak, born in Montreal in 1947, naturally came to the aid of Ukraine, the country of origin of her late father.
“I still have cousins in Ukraine and we think of them every day,” says the great lady of basketball.