The dream has started here for many of this province’s top athletes. That’s something to contemplate for more than 1,000 athletes gathered in Fort St. John for the 2020 B.C. Winter Games, which began Thursday and conclude today.
Just a few of the B.C. Games alumni from the Island on the Canadian team to the 2016 Rio and 2012 London Summer Olympics and Paralympics included swimming medallists Hilary Caldwell and Richard Weinberger, cycling medallist Gillian Carleton, wheelchair-racing medallist Michelle Stilwell, runner Cam Levins, cyclist Ryder Hesjedal, diver Riley McCormick, high-jumper Mike Mason, triathlete Kristen Sweetland, swimmer Alec Page, mountain-biker Geoff Kabush and volleyball players Fred Winters, Jamie Broder and Martin Reader.
A total of 80 B.C. Games alumni competed for Canada at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
There were 40 B.C. Games alumni in the past two Winter Olympics and Paralympics at Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018, including Island gold medallists Jamie Benn in hockey and Jim Armstrong in wheelchair curling.
The B.C. Games are the first part of the development pipeline leading to the Western Canada Games and Canada Games. The idea is to get athletes used to the multi-sport Games experience, which is very different than a single-sport championship, before the best of them go on to the Olympics and Commonwealth and Pan Am Games.
The athletes in Fort St. John, all between the ages of nine and 17, are representing their regions of the province. The Island is a region with its own team at the Games called Zone 6.
There are 15 sports being contested. Not all are winter sports. There are several sports from normally summer games that are used to fill out the roster in the B.C. Winter Games. One of those sports is gymnastics, with a group from Inspire Sports Victoria competing as part of the Island Zone 6 team in Fort St. John.
“Among the four boys who have qualified are the three original boys who trained out of my house before Inspire opened [in August of 2018 in Saanich],” said Erik Magraken, co-owner of Inspire Sports Victoria.
Co-owner Lucas Tiefenbach is head coach of the Inspire Sports boys’ competitive program at the gymnastics facility on Boleskine Road. Isaac Morcombe from Inspire Sports Victoria is head coach of the Zone 6 Island team at the Games. “From backyard, to now two years later, in the B.C. Games,” said Tiefenbach.
“It’s an incredible story. We’re so proud of this group. Now they are part of something bigger.”
Owen Magraken from Inspire Sports won gold on rings and bronze on parallel bars and teammate Max Hewstin-Gates captured silver in the vault for Zone 6 the Island.
The athletes at the Games are backed by more than 2,000 volunteers, 300 coaches and 190 officials.
“We are grateful for the incredible work that Fort St. John has done to prepare for the Games. This level of commitment to sport and community truly exemplifies the spirit of the North,” B.C Games president and CEO Alison Noble said in a statement.
“These emerging high-performance athletes are a source of pride and inspiration to us all.”
The B.C. Games were established in 1978. Fort St. John is the most northern host city in the Games’ history, said 2020 Games president Darren Snider.