But they never forgot what it was like earlier in their careers when every scrap of support helped. That’s why they were more than happy to feature at the fifth-annual Victoria Gold Medal Plates Olympic fundraiser held Thursday at the Victoria Conference Centre. They were among the numerous Island Olympians who gathered for the event, including Olympic medallists rowers Silken Laumann, Lindsay Jennerich, Ben Rutledge and Andrew Byrnes. The visiting Olympians included multi-medallists Curt Harnett from cycling, Marnie McBean from rowing and Melissa Tancredi from soccer.
The national Gold Medal Plates program has raised more than $12 million for Canada’s Olympians since 2004.
“Any support helps, especially in those earlier years, when you need that help to get you going,” said Hesjedal, a three-time Olympic cyclist, who won the Giro d’Italia and placed in the top five in the Tour de France.
“It’s good to pay that support forward.”
Cochrane, who won two Olympic medals in his swimming career, concurred: “Every dollar makes an incredible difference to young athletes.”
Charity Williams, part of the Langford-based 2016 Rio Olympics-bronze medallist Canadian women’s rugby sevens team, described financial support for athletes as an “important and necessary security blanket around us.”
The less time worrying about funding, the more time athletes can spend training.
The Gold Medal Plates format pits 12 top chefs from the region creating dishes that are sampled by corporate patrons who paid $375 a ticket. The event was sold out with more than 500 in attendance. Culinary experts did the judging and the gold, silver and bronze medallist chefs were announced at the end of the evening. The Gold medallist was Alex Chen of Boulevard in Vancouver, while the silver medallist was Rob Cassels of Saveur in Victoria and the bronze medallist Ryan Zuvich of Hilltop Bistro in Nanaimo.
The event was again chaired by Victoria investment adviser Bruce Courtnall, whose brother, Russ Courtnall, represented Canada in hockey at the Winter Olympics. The emcee was CBC Olympic host Scott Russell with the live music headed by Neil Osborne of 54-40.
Whitfield, who won Olympic gold and silver in triathlon, noted the competitive fires that burn within any professional group: “These top chefs really get into it and this has become as much about the culinary competition as about the Olympic athletes here.”
“It takes a village to raise an athlete and Victoria has been great at that,” said Olympic-medallist swimmer Hilary Caldwell.
The B.C. capital was the fifth of 11 Plates fundraisers for 2017, which began Oct. 12 in Edmonton, and run through Feb. 2-3 in Kelowna where the gold-medallist chefs from each event face-off in the finale.
The other Gold Medal Plates stops this year are in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Regina, Halifax and St. John’s.