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Prince George speed skater Hiller keeps 2026 Olympics in sharp focus

Two-time world champion on fast track to Italy

It never gets old for Carolina Hiller.

That feeling of pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with being a repeat world champion doesn't stray far from her mind.

It’s what drives the Prince George Blizzard Speed Skating Club alumna to push harder in training and it reinforces her will to compete and excel at the highest level as a long-track speed skater.

The thrill of clutching the Canadian flag and hearing the anthem along with her sprint teammates Ivanie Blondin and Brooklyn McDougall as they stood on the high spot of the podium the International Skating Union speed skating world championships brought tears to Hiller’s eyes the first time it happened a year ago in the Netherlands.

Those same emotions poured out again in February when she teamed up with Blondin and Maddison Perman to defend the title at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.

“It’s been an incredible feeling , from being back-to-back national champion to being back-to-back world champion,” said Hiller. “To be on our home track in Calgary, with friends and family there, was a surreal feeling. It just goes to show that everything I’m putting into the sport is paying off now and that really motivates me for the next couple years.

The chance to compete at the 2026 Olympics in Milan, Italy is Hiller’s ultimate goal and is a realistic ambition. Canada is a traditional medal threat in the sport and the Olympic team has three athlete spots for each event.

“With speed skating we really think about in quads, every four years, and we’re halfway through the quad from the previous Olympics, so there’s two years to go and I’m putting everything I can into that,” said Hiller.

“Everything I do now is to set myself up for success in Milan. I don’t want to go there just to compete, I want to go there and be a contender.”

Hiller came back in Prince George for a visit and met with the Citizen at the Exhibition Park ice oval where, nine years ago as 17-year-old, she raced to her first of three silver medals in the 2015 Canada Winter Games. Unfortunately, after that first race day, it got too warm and the oval’s natural ice melted to the point where the long-track events had to be moved to the indoor oval in Fort St. John.  She had also qualified for Team B.C. in short track and that’s the point in her career when she made her choice to stick with 400m ovals.

Hiller made the move to Calgary later that year to be close to the national team training base and it hasn’t always been smooth skating. In 2022 she was dropped from the national team and was contemplating quitting the sport to focus on her kinesiology studies at the University of Calgary when she started training under Olympic Oval club coach Kevin Crockett.

Their coach-athlete chemistry produced immediate results and before she knew it Hiller was beating every national team member in the sprints.

“It’s been a long road and the road hasn’t been straight,” she said. “There‘s always been ups and downs and struggles, but every single time I’m able to come back and then I look back through all that and it’s worth it, to get to where I did.

“Two years ago I didn’t qualify for the national team and so I was moved into a new program and I thought maybe that’s it for me,” she said. “But deep down I knew I had more in me and I wanted to try for one more year. Kevin is incredible and we have been working so well together. He really understands my needs and how we can improve together. Last year was incredible and we built on that this year.

“He’s huge on technique and speed skating is really  all about technique, you need to have that down to be able to skate fast and put the pressure down into the ice, so we went back to the basics at the beginning and really nailed the technique again. I’ve always been a hard worker and I always but 110 per cent into my training fitness wise, but technique is something that has held me back in the past and we’ve been able to break through to that and everything else has come on to place.”

Hiller, who turns 27 on May 7, graduated with a degree in kinesiology. Now that schooling is behind her and before she starts working in her field of study, she’s focused on being a full-time athlete, living on her $1,800 monthly national team carding and sponsorships to get her through at least the next two World Cup seasons leading up to the Olympics. She’s hoping more local sponsors will see her medal potential and show their willingness to get out their chequebooks.

“I’m from this amazing town and I want to give back in ways that I can,” she said. “It takes a whole community to raise an athlete, I believe.”

Hiller attended the Prince George Blizzard club’s annual general meeting a couple weekends ago and met up with some of the younger skaters during her trip home. She was kicking herself for not bringing her world championship medals to show as examples to show to the kids what can happen if you stick with it long enough.

“It was really nice to meet all the kids and let them know I used to be them,” said Hiller. “I was four-year-old skating and I know what it’s like, just be able to show them that anything is possible, they can do whatever they want in the sport.”

She and twin brother Nico took up skating  when they were four, along with their six-year-old brother Lucas. Their mom, Ariadne de Holness Hiller, a native of Panama, was working as a geologist in Peru when she saw TV coverage of short track speed skating at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Years later, when she and her husband Bruce moved to Prince George, she remembered that clip and signed all three kids up as Blizzard skaters. Speed skating was the perfect outlet for Nico, a hyperactive kid who needed an outlet for all that energy, and the other two Hillers were hooked as well right from the start.

“Skating was the main sport we did every single year since I was four, we never took a break,” said Carolina. “I did high school sports (at College Heights Secondary) and I loved track and field, and did cross country, basketball volleyball and basketball but I always came back to speed skating. At a young age I was really good at it, and that probably helped too when I was little.

“It was just so fun and we got older in the summer we did cross-training, biking and (weight training at) X-Conditioning and I just loved working hard and pushing myself and setting goals and obtaining them.”

Hiller was on the NextGen national team for four years and lost her spot in 2022-23 and requalified as part of the national team this past season. Early in 2023 she was invited back and was carded because her times were so quick.

Her World Cup tour this past season took her for a lap around the world. She left Calgary for Japan, then hit China, Netherlands, Norway, Poland and back to Calgary. She’s currently ranked 13th in the world in the 500m distance. She finished ninth in that event in China and had a handful of top-15 finishes.

“It just goes to show how important a good coach is, Kevin (Crockett) was able to see what I needed and what we needed to work on together,” she said. “Coaches in the past weren’t able to do that, I was just pushed to the side more and this time we were able to come back strong and show the national team that I really belong there.”