Thompson Rivers University

TRU WolfPack alum defends Olympic gold

July 2, 2024

Former TRU WolfPack men’s volleyball player Kevin Tillie (2009-2011) is embarking on his third Olympic experience with Team France. They placed ninth at the 2016 Rio Olympics and won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

As an outside hitter with the WolfPack, Tillie was named Canada West and CIS Rookie of the Year in 2010. The following year he was a Canada West First Team All-Star and CIS Second Team All-Canadian. Tillie went on to play at the University of California-Irvine where he won two-straight NCAA Division I championships. Tillie has since played professionally in Italy, Poland and China.

In the midst of preparations to defend the gold on his home turf at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, Tillie made time to give us a glimpse into his world.

Can you share your top three Olympic highlights?

TRU WolfPack alum and Olympic gold medalist Kevin Tillie

TRU WolfPack alum and Olympic gold medalist Kevin Tillie

In Rio, I got to play in the Olympics for the first time and my dad was my head coach. I shared the experience with my older brother Kim, who competed at the Olympics for France on the basketball team. A highlight was getting to hang out and watch my brother’s games.

In 2020, of course the highlight was to win gold and make a dream come true. I did it with a group of amazing friends — some of them I had played with since I was 16 years old. Every athlete grows up dreaming of winning the Olympics, so it was an amazing moment.

And third is really the whole experience of the Olympics. It’s not your average sporting event, and you really feel the experience at the village and the venues when you see all these world-class athletes getting ready to compete.

How did winning the gold medal change your life, personally and professionally?

Since we won, we have a new title to our name. We will be Olympic champions for the rest of our lives. The fans, media and even players view us differently now. We have gained their respect and people in France recognize us now. We also reached one of our ultimate career goals, so we play with more experience and sense of confidence.

I understand the French team’s gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games was considered a bit of an upset. Do you agree with that statement?

Yes, in 2020, the volleyball world didn’t really believe in us compared to 2016 when we failed in Rio. In Tokyo, we started the tournament with a bad loss — being backed against a wall, we played without any pressure and that is when we played our best.

Now you’re returning as the reigning champs in your home country. Does it put extra pressure on the team? 

In Paris, we will also not be expected to win, but hopefully we can reach our best level of play at the right moment. That is what the Olympics is all about. There will be more pressure because we are playing at home, but we love packed arenas and the fans celebrating will bring us the adrenaline to surpass ourselves. We love playing at home.

How are you managing those expectations? 

I am becoming an “old” player, so I am used to pressure and expectations. I also played under my dad coaching the national team for about 10 years, so nothing will be more difficult than that. I have built enough experience also in club teams all over the world to manage all of that.

Who do you see as your biggest competitors this time around?

This year, Poland will be the favourite along with Italy and USA. But as I said, the Olympics is about playing your best at the right moment. Teams face an enormous amount of pressure, and it is not easy to play with a target on your back.

Are there any personal goals you have set for this Olympics, beyond winning another medal?

No, our goal really is to come back with a medal, but in volleyball it seems like any team can win at any moment.

Your family is made up of high-level athletes. Are you competitive with one another? Please share a story if one comes to mind.

My two brothers, Kim and Killian, play basketball, so there is not much competition between us because we play different sports. We support and help each other a lot. However, when we reunite and meet each other in the summer for holidays and we manage to play a bit of beach volleyball or basketball, we love to talk trash to each other. I used to play a bit of basketball and my brothers used to play some volleyball. Killian is a very skilled volleyball player.

Can you tell us a little about your life outside of the Olympics?

I play in Poland for the club team of Warsaw (Projekt Warszawa). We finished with the bronze medal this season as part of one of the top leagues in the world.

Outside of volleyball, I am married to Anna, who I met at TRU and am the father of Olivia, who is four years old. I spend a lot of time with them and love to go to cafés, parks and restaurants. In the summer, we go back to the south of France, where I grew up, and we love spending time at the beach. We try to catch up on all the sun we miss during the season.

Kevin Tillie

Tillie was an outside hitter with the WolfPack for two years.

How did you end up in Kamloops playing for the TRU WolfPack?

I grew up following in my brother’s footsteps. He went to college in the US for basketball and I also wanted to experience the university life in America. Coming from Europe, it is not easy to come study in North America with all the amateur rules and grade transfers. My father knew some coaches in Canada and the opportunity came for me to go to TRU, so I didn’t hesitate.

How did that experience help you grow as a player? 

It was huge for me to come overseas. I learned to be independent, speak another language and work within another culture. I evolved in my ability to adapt in sport and in life, which is probably the most important thing as a professional athlete. My teammates and coaches at TRU were also amazing to welcome me and include me like their own. It made my transition from France really smooth.

Do you have a couple highlights from your time with the ‘Pack?

I loved my two years at TRU and learned a lot. The whole experience of living the university life and travelling around Canada with the team was so fun. I met some good people there that I still have contact with, including a few foreign players who helped me a lot and players like Gord Perrin (originally from Creston, BC), who I played against for many years with the national team but also played together with for clubs in Turkey and China.

I understand you met your wife while you were both students at TRU. Can you briefly share the story of how you met?

She played for the women’s volleyball team at TRU and the men and women’s teams hung out quite often at parties and we had a good vibe going on and started to hang out also outside of parties and volleyball trips. She was a big part of my experience at TRU.

Do you still maintain ties with anyone from the WolfPack?

Yes, I do, but with the number of games that I play, I don’t have much free time to travel. I see them during volleyball tournaments if we get lucky to cross paths, but some guys also came to visit me in France.

Can you share a word of advice to university athletes interested in taking their athletic careers to the next level?

I would advise them to not skip steps and keep enjoying the game. Enjoy the journey and work hard to improve.

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