Established in 1884 and having gone through numerous names since then before settling on its most recent moniker in 1990, Athletics Canada is the national sport governing body for track and field, para athletics, cross-country running, and road running. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, Athletics Canada is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to support high performance athletics excellence at the local, national, and international level and to provide leadership in developmental athletics. Earlier this year, leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, Athletics Canada introduced a new identity designed by Vancouver, Canada-based One Twenty Three West.
Athletics Canada’s distinctive new logo fuses together a modern design, Canadian colours and visuals from the world of athletics to create a new look for a team poised to do big things this summer at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, and for years to come.
The Maple Leaf: First and foremost, Athletics Canada represents Canadian athletes and fans. The logo uses shapes inspired by the Maple Leaf, with the negative space in the middle of the symbol forming the top of a Maple Leaf.
The Track: Lanes from the track are represented in the shapes that form the symbol, while the angle suggests the movement and speed our sport is known for.
The Podium: The tiered shapes that make up the logo depict every athlete’s goal: the podium.
The Torch: A symbol of the pursuit of perfection, enlightenment, passion and hope, the logo is reminiscent of the glowing flames of a torch.
A for Athletics: Coming to a point at the top of the logo, the symbol with the logo reflects the shape of the letter ‘A’.
The old logo gets an “A” for effort in its idea of putting a maple leaf inside a running track and giving it some dimension with the track looping in front of and then behind the leaf but, yeah, the execution wasn’t quite there, especially with the gargantuan leaf. The typography had a nice vintage vibe but it was totally unrelated to the other elements. The new logo, among other things, literally gets an “A” as the new symbol is a great amalgamation of various references: an “A” for athletics, a running track, a podium, a torch, and, of course, the obligatory maple leaf. What’s great though is that the icon ISN’T any of those things, it just just hints at them in subtle ways allowing it to exist on its own as a fairly original icon. I particularly love how they hid the maple leaf, and only the top of it, in the negative space, making it probably the only Canadian sports logo to not feature a full maple leaf. The other references may be hard to discern without the explanation but what’s important is that the icon feels dynamic, confident, and commanding. The wordmark, typeset in Mohol by Hungarumlaut, matches the construction of the icon well with the way all angled letterforms are constructed, which is a little weird to be honest but I appreciate how bold and unexpected it is.
Building off of the jagged edges of the icon, the identity introduces a defiantly aggressive — for Canadian standards of politeness — custom typeface that is spiky, bold, and assertive. It does so many things wrong to the individual letters yet it’s so right as a whole — especially when it spells out “CANADA” — as well as being surprisingly original at a time when there is so much sameness in identity design. I do wish they would have figured out how to jagg-ify the extra straight letters like “E”, “F”, “I”, etc., but I can see the difficulty of doing so. Nonetheless, love this. The pictograms are great too with the forward motion of the pictograms amplified by the jagged construction. One last thing to appreciate is how the core idea extends to the photography by silhouetting athlete images and then repeating them in short intervals and distances to recreate that jagged aesthetic that manages to have a kinetic presence while being completely static.
We’ve got some of the world’s fastest runners. We’ve got some of the highest jumpers. The strongest throwers. But we’re Canadian. And that means we have a hard time being boastful. We’re polite. But as our athletes step onto the world stage, not one of them will go unnoticed. This is Canada’s time to shine. This is where we stop hoping, stop apologizing. And start creating a stage for our athletes to win.Athletics Canada’s branding was corporate and functional, much like any of the other semi governmental sporting organizations. We needed to build a brand that people could rally behind, with the ultimate goal of inspiring people to cheer for team Canada during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
There isn’t a whole lot in applications other than a few renders from the first video and a lot of apparel shots. The good news is that it all looks great and bad-ass. I like how the apparel can shift to green, away from Canadian red, and still feel like part of the brand thanks to the custom typeface. Their Instagram account is where you can see more real-life, day-to-day uses of the system and… there is some work to be done, as it goes in way too many directions using the custom typeface, the supporting Mohol typeface, and the stripes of the icons in somewhat clashing ways. Still, some nice glimpses of the identity in the physical world can be seen here and here.
Overall, this is great not just for its daring design aesthetics — particularly as they disrupt the cliché of apologetic Canadianism — but also because it clearly positions Athletics Canada as a confident leader for both its athletes and its country.