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“I cheer for trying my best”: Special Olympians epitomize the spirit and passion of sport

Brothers of sorts, Matthew Lai is nestled up beside his B.C. Special Olympics teammate Eric Pahima on the kiss and cry bench at these Canada Winter Games, subtly eyeing the two roses clutched in his friend’s right hand.

With a slight, almost inaudible, wisp of sadness in his voice, Matthew leans over and says, “I didn’t get one of those.”

There is no pause. The words are barely out of his mouth, and Eric reaches out and passes a flower to his friend.

“You can have one of mine.”

Figure skater.

Instantly, both faces break out in broad, ear-to-ear grins. They hug. Around them, witnesses to this spontaneous act of kindness look at one another as if to say, “try not to cry. I dare you.”

There is little doubt, little argument, that these Special Olympians help represent the de facto true spirit of these Canada Winter Games.

It goes without saying that figure skating, by nature, is a sport charged with emotion. Smiles and tears, laughs and hugs, are a fabric of its soul.

But these competitors all wear smiles, teaching us in the process why we love sport, why we stand and cheer. Not just for the medals, but for daring to dream, for being witness to personal triumph and perseverance.

The tears? Those were reserved for everyone else in the building.

Figure Skater.

Credit: Dyanne Dimassimo

“This is what sport is all about – having athletes go out and perform and do their best,” says Brittany Baril, Special Olympics coach of Team Newfoundland Labrador. “That is what these athletes show us. Go out and work your hardest, give it your all. Nothing else really matters.

“Every so often, all of us can lose our passion along the way. These athletes remind us how important it is to keep that passion. They always have it.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to hold it together,” Baril adds. Her voice begins to waver, and she has to take a breath.

“It’s a unique bond we share, and it is very rewarding,” she continues after a pause. “As a coach, you just want to teach the love of skating and give something back. That’s what it is all about. The love of skating, no matter what level.”

Like Baril, Team B.C. Special Olympics figure skating head coach Jessica Chapelski has wiped away her fair share of tears at these Games.

“I’ve lost count how many times I’ve cried,” admits Chapelski. “I don’t even try to keep count anymore.”

“These athletes belong here, belong on this team, and it means the world to them. They are cheered. They feel free.”

Figure Skater.

Credit : Dyanne Dimassimo.

Standing alongside the personable Michael Sumner, one of her athletes from Team Yukon, coach Michelle Semaschuk has a tough time keeping her emotions in check, as well. As she speaks, tears well up in her eyes and she stops, caught up in the emotion of the moment.

As if on cue, Michael leans over and gives his coach a warm hug, for comfort.

It seems hugs are mandatory here.

“To see this camaraderie, this perseverance, can be overwhelming,” admits Semaschuk. “You see the passion, the love in their eyes. Michael continues to grow into this wonderful young man, with the biggest heart you’ll ever see.”

“This has been a tremendous experience for all our athletes,” says Cathy Skinner of Team Ontario. “It’s incredible. To see the crowd, even the judges, clapping and cheering means everything to these athletes. They’re all friends. They want to sit together. It’s just a life experience that most of them have never had. They don’t have tears. It’s all about the smiles. If they haven’t won, one of their friends has.”

“We could all learn from them.”

Like his fellow competitors, Matthew Lai is an entertainer, and cherishes his time on centre stage. Following his performances at these Games, he raises his arms to the heavens in triumph as he skates off, basking in the crowd’s adulation, in his moment.

Canada Winter Games. Athlete and coach.

“I like the crowd cheering, when they cheer for Matthew and his elements,” he says.

“I cheer for the flag of British Columbia. I cheer for trying my best.”

As it turns out, Matthew will leave these games with a gold medal. The medal, like the score, doesn’t seem to matter as much.

More importantly, he is leaving with his friendships. His memories. And his flower.

First figure skating medals clinched in Prince George

Three time zones away, you know Brian Orser was smiling.

Ten-year-old Stephen Gogolev, who trains under the two-time Olympic silver medallist at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling club, is making quite the name for himself this week at the Canada Winter Games.

Less than three months after claiming the pre-novice men’s national title, Gogolev added another gold medal to his rapidly-expanding trophy case Wednesday, winning pre-novice gold once again in front of a boisterous, standing-room only crowd in Prince George. The youngster was simply dominating, scoring 73.17  in his free program for a 114.04 total.  Quebec’s Samuel Turcotte (93.51) took silver, while hometown favourite own Justin Hampole (91.88) went home with bronze.

“I came here to do my best, and I’m really happy to go home with a gold medal,” Gogolev told reporters. “This has been a great experience for me.”

The final two competitors to close out the novice men’s competition, Hampole and Gogolev gave the crowd their money’s worth, setting off back-to-back standing ovations that seemed to rattle the walls at the Kin 1 Arena.

Off the ice, Gogolev and Hampole have formed a friendship this week, spending time together away from the rink.

“We’re going to the Nerf gun competition together later (Wednesday),” laughed Hampole. “We’ve really had a chance to get to know each other at this competition. I’ve got to see him around the hotel and at the village, so it’s been pretty cool.”

In pre-novice ice dance, reigning Canadian champions Arianne Bonneau and Oliver Zhang of Quebec scored 40.66 in their free dance to secure gold with a 68.75 total. Ontario’s Han Na Kim and Corey Circelli were second at 58.80 while Saskatchewan’s Tori Shmon and Alexander Hopkins placed third.

“We feel really good because we realized all of our goals this year,” said Zhang. “We wanted to come to the Canada Games and win gold for Quebec, so this is special.”

Matthew Lai of B.C. claimed the gold medal in Special Olympics Men’s Level 2, with fellow British Columbian Eric Pahima second and Michael Sumner of Yukon third. In the Men’s Level 3 competition, Jack Fan (Ontario), Thomas Babcock (Ontario) and Emanuel Bou Lutfalah (Quebec) were first, second and third, respectively.

To close out Wednesday night, the reigning national champion duo of Hannah Dawson and Daniel Villeneuve captured gold in pre-novice pair before Canadian champion Sarah-Maude Blanchard of Quebec edged out B.C.’s Olivia Gran for pre-novice women’s gold.

“It was a season that I couldn’t have dreamed of – winning our nationals and then this, what an experience,” said Dawson.

“It was an amazing time for us, and the crowd couldn’t have been better,” added Villeneuve. “We will remember this for a long time.”

Novice and Special Olympics women’s competitors will perform their free programs Thursday. The schedule is below (all times PT):

  • Novice Pair Free 12:00 noon
  • Novice Women Free 12:40 pm
  • Special Olympics Women Level 2 – Free 14:55
  • Special Olympics Women Level 3 – Free 15:45
  • Novice Free Dance 19:05
  • Novice Men Free 20:05

Medal ceremonies for pre-novice, novice and Special Olympics figure skating are scheduled for Thursday night following competition.

Full Results: 2015 Canada Winter Games

Second day of figure skating competition in the books at Canada Winter Games

Timing is indeed everything, and Ontario’s Alison Schumacher picked an ideal time to lay down her best short program of the season.

The 12-year-old, 4’4” sparkplug was lights-out Tuesday during the novice women’s short program at the 2015 Canada Winter Games, posting a personal best 38.97 to vault into top spot, just ahead of Canadian champion Rachel Pettitt of Yukon (pictured) at 38.89.

“I really wanted to skate my personal best here, and I was able to do that, so I’m pretty excited going into the free program (Thursday),” says Schumacher, who trains alongside Canadian national team member Elladj Baldé in Detroit.

Novice and Special Olympics competitors took centre stage Tuesday during the second full day of figure skating competition at these Games.

In novice pair, the sibling tandem of Olivia and Mackenzie Boys-Eddy, reigning national silver medallists, lead after the short program at 34.88, just in front of Quebec’s Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland (33.13).

“We are so proud to represent Team Ontario, and we just want to do our best to bring the points to the team,” says Mackenzie.

“It’s probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever performed in front of, and the cheering was so loud,” adds Olivia.

“Our ultimate goal is the 2022 Olympics, so we think this event is a big step towards that goal.”

Fresh off a silver medal performance at the Canadian championships last month, Quebec’s Gabriel Farand holds down top spot after scoring 40.58 in the novice men’s short program. Closing out competition Tuesday was the novice pattern dance, which sees Canadian champions Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha of Quebec in the gold medal position heading into Thursday’s free dance.

In the Special Olympics competition, Stephanie Divin of the host B.C. team leads after the Special Olympics Women Level 2 Elements, while Alberta’s Meg Ohsada is in top spot following Women’s Level 3 Elements.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

There is some serious talent in the Boys-Eddy family, and it isn’t confined to the rink.

Olivia and Mackenzie Boys-Eddy of Team Ontario lead the pack following Tuesday’s novice pair short program, but they’re making headlines off the ice, as well.

An avid musician, 16-year-old Mackenzie recorded and performed their short program music, a cover of Percy Mayfield’s classic “Hit the Road, Jack.”

“I learned to play the piano was I was really young and learned that song when I was 10 or 11,” recalls Mackenzie. “I’ve played it for so many years and it is such a fun song, so I decided to record my own version of it and produce it with a string section and a horn section.”

Not to be outdone by her big brother, Olivia seems to have a little show business in her as well. The 12-year-old served as a skating stunt double in the Ryan Reynolds movie “The Captive.”

“It was just an amazing experience,” says Olivia, who stands 4’7”. “I’ve never done anything like that before. They were looking for someone who could do a death spiral, was small, had blue eyes and blonde hair.

“I guess that was me,” she adds with a laugh.

FOLLOWING IN GRANDFATHER’S FOOTSTEPS?

Special Olympian Stephanie Divin comes from champion bloodlines, and she may end up leaving Prince George with a medal of her own.

Her grandfather, Karol Divin, represented then-Czechoslovakia in three Olympic Winter Games (1956, 1960, 1964), winning a silver medal in 1960. For those keeping score, Canada’s Donald Jackson, the 1962 world champion, shared the same podium as Divin after claiming bronze.

“That is pretty exciting to have a grandfather who is famous,” says Stephanie. “I would like to skate my best here and enjoy my memories.”

So far, so good. Stephanie Divin is in top spot after the Special Olympics Women’s Stage 2 Elements.

UP NEXT:

The first wave of figure skating medals will be decided Wednesday with free programs in pre-novice men’s (10:15 am PT), ice dance (11:50 am), pair (4:50 pm) and women’s (5:35 pm) disciplines. The Special Olympics Men Free Programs (Levels 2 and 3) will be staged Wednesday beginning at 12:50 pm. Medal ceremonies for pre-novice, novice and Special Olympics will be handed out Thursday night.

Click here to view start orders and results

Canada Winter Games : Monday News & Notes

PRINCE GEORGE, BC – Reigning national pre-novice champions made a pretty loud statement Monday as the curtain lifted on the figure skating competition at the 2015 Canada Winter Games.

Less than three months after claiming the Canadian pre-novice crown at Skate Canada Challenge, 10-year-old rising star Stephen Gogolev of Ontario, who trains under the watchful eye of two-time Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser, scored 40.87 to lead after the pre-novice men’s short program.

“I am pretty happy with my performance,” said Gogolev. “I am just here to do my best and improve. These Games will be good for my experience.”

Gogolev’s dazzling performance brought the crowd to its feet at a jam-packed Kin 1 Arena, but it turned out to be the second-loudest cheer of the event. About an hour later, the overflow crowd had the rafters shaking for Prince George’s own Justin Hampole, who scored 36.08 to settle into second spot.

Beres Clements, another B.C. athlete, sits third with 33.97 points.

In ice dance, reigning Canadian pre-novice champions Arianne Bonneau and Oliver Zhang of Quebec set the pace heading into the free dance with 28.09 points. Team Ontario’s Han Na Kim and Corey Circelli are second at 22.48.

Hannah Dawson and Daniel Villeneuve of Ontario, also 2015 national champions, are in top spot after the pre-novice pair short program. In pre-novice women, B.C.’s Olivia Gran scored 41.37 to hold down a slight edge on Canadian champion Sarah-Maude Blanchard of Quebec (39.02).

Eric Pahima of B.C. leads after the Special Olympics Men Level 2 Elements, while Ontario’s Thomas Babcock is the frontrunner after the Men’s Level 3 Elements. In the Special Olympics Solo Women Dance, Nadia Bouillon of Ontario is in top spot after the Elements competition.

QUICK LEARNER

Seven years ago, ice was foreign to Quebec figure skater Nelson Sanchez-Leemet.

In fact, he had never seen it before.

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, the 16-year-old saw a sheet for ice for the first time when his mother took him to a skating show shortly after the family moved to Canada when he was nine. Not long after, Sanchez-Leemet’s mother bought him a pair of hockey skates and enrolled him in CanSkate lessons. After trying the skates for a week, Sanchez Leemet switched to his mother’s figure skates, trained in them for six months and never looked back.

“I went to that skating show, and that was all I needed to see,” says Sanchez-Leemet.

“That’s what I wanted to do – skate. Just like any other Canadian kid.”

After placing fourth in the pre-novice national championships in December, Sanchez-Leemet and partner Samantha Couillard are currently in the silver medal position heading into Wednesday’s free program.

“I love skating with him – he is so determined, so focused, and he just wants to get better,” says Couillard.

DID YOU KNOW…

Team Ontario’s Hannah Dawson, who teamed with partner Daniel Villeneuve to lead the pre-novice pair competition, recorded one of those popular “I Believe” commercials with Canadian figure skating legend Donald Jackson leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

In fact, the 1962 world champion hand-picked Dawson for the role.

“That was quite a big thrill for me,” says Dawson. “It was a lot of fun, and something I will never forget.”

THEY SAID IT…..

“I was pretty scared when I first got out there. That crowd was pretty loud.”  – Stephen Gogolev discussing how he felt prior to his short program Monday.

UP NEXT:

Novice and Special Olympics athletes take over the Kin I area Tuesday as figure skating competition continues. The novice men, women and pair short programs are scheduled, along with the novice pattern dance. The Special Olympics Women’s Elements (Levels 2 and 3) will also be staged. Competition gets underway at 10:45 a.m. PT (1:45 p.m. ET)

Click here to view start orders and results

 

Canadian figure skaters ready for national spotlight at 2015 Canada Winter Games

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. –  Promising figure skaters from all across Canada are set to step into the spotlight at the 2015 Canada Winter Games in picturesque Prince George, B.C.

Figure skating helps kick off Week 2 of the Canada Winter Games schedule, with competition getting underway on Monday, February 23 at the Kin I Arena. Skaters will vie for medals in  pre-novice, novice and Special Olympic events.

Visitors to http://sportscanada.tv/canadagames will get a rinkside seat with a live webcast of the entire competition. Don’t forget to join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #CGFigureSkating.

Several 2015 Canadian medallists are slated to compete in Prince George, including reigning Canadian novice women’s champion Rachel Pettitt (B.C.), novice ice dance champions Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha (Quebec) and novice pair silver medallists Olivia Boys-Eddy and Mackenzie Boys-Eddy (Ontario). Gabriel Farand (Quebec) and Conrad Orzel (Ontario), who won novice men’s silver and bronze, respectively, at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships last month, will once again go head-to-head at these Games.

All four reigning national pre-novice champions will compete at the Canada Winter Games: Ontario’s Stephen Gogolev (pre-novice men), Quebec’s Sarah Maude Blanchard (pre-novice ladies), Hannah Dawson and Daniel Villeneuve of Ontario (pre-novice pair) and Arianne Bonneau and Oliver Zhang of Quebec (pre-novice ice dance).

Canada Winter Games figure skating competitor list

The legendary Toller Cranston, who passed away last month, won gold at the inaugural Canada Winter Games in 1967. Other notable Skate Canada alumni include two-time Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser (1975 CWG) and former Canadian champions Emmanuel Sandhu (1995 CWG) and Michael Slipchuk (1983 CWG).

Follow all the action from the Canada Winter Games by visiting Skate Canada’s Canada Winter Games page, which includes start orders and results. Results will also be available on the official site of the Canada Winter Games.

The 2015 Canada Winter Games will be staged February 13 – March 1, 2015 as Prince George and Northern British Columbia play host to 2,400 athletes, 1,000 coaches and officials, up to 4,500 volunteers, hundreds of media and thousands of visitors.

Canada Games and Konica Minolta announce Flag Bearers for the 2015 Canada Winter Games

Ottawa – The Canada Games and Konica Minolta are thrilled to announce the line-up of athletes who will be walking with the Canada Games flag during the 2015 Canada Winter Games Opening Ceremonies.

Carrying the property’s symbolic flag throughout the CN centre come February 13th will be:

• Susan Auch, three time Olympic Medalist, Speed Skating,
• Eric Bedard, four time Olympic Medalist, Speed Skating,
• Robert “Bo” Hedges, two-time Paralympic Medalist, Wheelchair Basketball,
• Cathy Preistner, Olympic Medalist, Speed Skating,
• Kelsey Serwa, Olympic Silver Medalist, Ski Cross,
• Joy Ward-Fera, Hall of Honour Inductee, two-time World Championship Medalist, Rowing.

You will be able to watch live coverage of the Opening Ceremonies on TSN at 10 pm ET / 7 pm PT.

“We are very excited that these tremendous Canada Games alumni are here to soak in the spirit of the Games that meant so much to them and their athletic development,” says Tom Quinn, Chairman of the Canada Games Council. “Walking in to the crowd cheering them on will definitely bring them back to their youth where they marched in wearing their Province’s team colours, ready for their first taste of multi-sport competition.”

The flag itself has been on quite the trip since November, visiting each community who has hosted the Canada Games in the past as part of the 2015 Canada Games Flag Relay. The flag bearer tradition for the 2015 Games has been made possible thanks to the support of National partner Konica-Minolta.

“Konica Minolta is proud to be a part of this monumental event that exemplifies the country’s best, up-and-coming athletes,” says David Armstrong, Vice President of Marketing, Konica Minolta Business Solutions (Canada) Ltd. “We are honoured to be a part of the flag bearer tradition and we take pride in supporting Canada’s next generation of young and talented athletes.”

Below is a short bio for each of the flag bearers describing their achievements at the Canada Games.

Susan Auch
Susan Auch excelled at the 1983 Canada Games, capturing two Gold Medals and one Silver in Speed Skating. This success would translate to the next level as well, where she obtained a Bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Silver at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer and another Silver at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.

Eric Bedard
Eric Bedard’s experience at the Canada Games was truly astounding as he amassed a breathtaking four gold medals at the 1995 Canada Winter Games. He then used this positive experience to propel his international and Olympic Speed Skating Career, where he won Gold and Bronze at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Gold at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and Silver at the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

Robert “Bo” Hedges
Robert “Bo” Hedges was a key component of the Team BC Wheelchair Basketball team that won Silver at the 2003 Canada Games in Bathurst-Campbellton. He used this experience to further excel in the sport to eventually reach the Paralympic Games where he won a Silver Medal at the 2008 Games and Gold at the 2012 Games.

Cathy Preistner
Cathy Priestner competed in Speed Skating for Team Manitoba at the 1971 Canada Games where she won Gold in the Women’s 400 metre. Following the Games, Cathy continued her success on the Olympic stage appearing at the 1972 and 1976 Winter Olympics. At the 1976 Games, she claimed Silver in the 500m event, becoming the first female Canadian speed skating medalist. She also carried Canada’s flag at that Game’s closing ceremonies.

Kelsey Serwa
Kelsey Serwa had a great showing at the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, winning Gold in Alpine at the Giant Slalom – Female. This invaluable experience served Kelsey well moving forward in her skiing career as she continued to reach new heights, leading her to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Recently, Serwa reached another milestone in her career, winning a Silver medal in ski cross at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

Joy Ward-Fera
Ward-Fera’s athletic prowess in both Alpine-Skiing and Rowing are evidenced by her long list of achievements. The height of her Alpine career came during the 1971 Canada Games, where she won Gold in the dual slalom. Ward-Fera used the unique experience she gained at the Games to propel her Rowing Career. Her Rowing excellence drove her all the way to the Olympics where she represented Canada during the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. She continued this success by winning Bronze medals at the 1977 and 1978 World Championships.

2015 Canada Winter Games Broadcast and Webcast Schedule Announced

Ottawa, ON – The Canada Games, along with TSN, RDS and SportsCanada.TV, have announced the official Broadcast and Webcast schedules for the 2015 Canada Winter Games.

“We are very excited to be working with official broadcast partners TSN and RDS to bring Canadians national TV coverage of the 2015 Canada Winter Games,” said Tom Quinn, Canada Games Council Chairman. “TSN and RDS are Canada’s sports leaders and the trusted sources for sports broadcasting. We are proud to partner with them as they will allow all Canadians to enjoy a first-class production of the 2015 Canada Winter Games.”

Following the IIHF World Juniors broadcast coverage from Montreal and Toronto, TSN and RDS will now turn to broadcasting the second major event featured in the Year of Sport; the 2015 Canada Winter Games.

In addition to the highly anticipated Opening and Closing Ceremonies broadcasts, TSN and RDS broadcast segments will feature hockey, curling, speed skating, badminton, as well highlights from as many other sports as possible.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and Canada Games alumna Catriona Le May Doan will anchor TSN’s live coverage of the Games. SPORTSCENTRE’s Paul Hollingsworth will provide play-by-play throughout the Games, including men’s hockey alongside analyst

Dave Reid and women’s hockey alongside analyst Cheryl Pounder. TSN’s broadcast team also features:

• Speed Skating: Two-time Olympic silver medalist Susan Auch

• Curling: Olympic bronze medalist Melissa Soligo

• Badminton: London 2012 Team Canada badminton head coach Ram Nayyar

“The Canada Games is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the next generation of elite Canadian athletes,” said Stewart Johnston, President of TSN. “TSN is proud to be the official broadcaster of the 2015 Canada Winter Games and we are all looking forward to giving Canadians a front row seat to watch the action coming out of Prince George.”

TSN’s comprehensive schedule will include 40 hours of English coverage while RDS will feature 40 hours of French coverage. All broadcast footage will be made available at TSN.ca and RDS.ca.

“We are proud to deliver comprehensive coverage of the 2015 Canada Winter Games,” says Stuart Ballantyne, 2015 Canada Winter Games CEO. “Through our broadcast and webcast partnerships, the spirit of the 2015 Games and the northern story will be shared across the nation. From the excitement of the Opening Ceremony to the joy of winning a gold medal, Canadians will be able to journey with us to the 2015 Canada Winter Games from the comfort of their homes.”

Webcasting coverage of the 2015 Games will be featured at the Canada Games’ brand new webcasting portal, www.canadagamestv.ca, where over 900 hours of almost every sport will be included.

“The www.canadagamestv.ca website will feature an astounding 900 hours of coverage of almost every sport,” says Council Chairman Quinn. “The website will also feature Canada Games TV Today, an online news magazine show dedicated to showcasing the untold stories of athletes competing at the Games.”

SportsCanada.TV is the new webcaster of the Canada Games and has a proven track record of covering many high-end sporting events.

“SportsCanada.TV is extremely excited about our partnership with the 2015 Canada Winter Games to provide over 900 hours of live coverage from 17 events in Prince George. We look forward to showcasing many of Canada’s future world-class athletes and connecting them to viewers from across the country and around the world.”