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Island athletes plot their paths to Paris on one-year-out anniversary of 2024 Summer Olympics

About 50 athletes and coaches expected to be on Canada’s team for Paris Olympics
Anna Mollenhauer is expected to lead the Canadian women's field hockey team into the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. FIELD HOCKEY CANADA

Island athletes are literally climbing the walls in Central Saanich in their bid to get to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, which start one year from today. They are also surfing in Tofino, rowing on Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan, spiraling rugby balls in Langford and racing the track at PISE.

Projections have more than 50 Island or Island-based athletes on the Canadian team to Paris with the qualification window now open. Island fans will get to witness the process live when the women’s and men’s North American and Caribbean rugby sevens qualifying tournaments for the Paris Olympics are held Aug. 19-20 at Starlight Stadium.

“It’s starting to feel real with deadlines looming,” said national men’s team field hockey veteran James Kirkpatrick of Victoria, looking to become a back-to-back Olympian after representing Canada at Tokyo 2020.

The first hemispheric Olympic qualifier for field hockey is through the 2023 Pan Am Games this fall in Santiago, Chile.

“There’s not a ton of time left and we have to squeeze everything we can out of the next few months,” said Kirkpatrick.

Anna Mollenhauer of Victoria is a member of the Canadian women’s field hockey team and said: “It’s crazy that it’s only one year out to Paris. It’s an exciting time for all sports. It’s all coming so quickly, with the Pan Am Games in the fall in Chile. It’s a very inspiring atmosphere and time. We have big goals and are a super passionate and hard working group that is training hard to make our dreams come true.”

Canada, which was a missed penalty-shot in shootout away from qualifying for Tokyo 2020, is tracking its first Olympic berth in women’s field hockey since the heavily Island-tinged Canadian team played in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Mollenhauer has already matched her mom as a multiple-time national champion at UVic and is now looking to join two-time 1984 LA. and 1988 Seoul Summer Games player Nancy Mollenhauer as an Olympian.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind since I was a kid,” said Anna Mollenhaur.

Members of the Canadian triathlon team conducted a training camp this summer at the national triathlon centre in Victoria to work on the pieces that will hopefully fit together next summer in Paris. The qualifying process in underway.

“You need to get quite a few [qualifying] points for Paris and getting them early takes the pressure off,” Manitoba-native Tyler Mislawchuk told the Times Colonist during the training camp in Victoria.

“The next 12 months are big. Although you realize there’s a lot more at stake, you treat it as much a normal year as possible. A big part of it is staying healthy.”

Paris Games triathlon aspirant and UVic graduate Martin Sobey added: “Paris is an opportunity we are very much gearing up for. It helps having Tyler in Victoria training. We motivate and push each other.”

Climbers Ethan Pitcher and Michael Finn-Henry are striving for Paris at Boulders Gym. Finn-Henry, also a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at Harvard, moved Greater Victoria more than a year ago to train at Boulders and is ranked 1-2 with Pitcher to represent Canada in speed climbing next year in the Olympics.

“This facility is a necessity and I couldn’t live without it,” said Pitcher. “It’s a staple of my life. We have a real chance for Paris and are excited about that. But it’s a lot of work every day.”

The way of life on water is happening on Quamichan Lake as Canada’s top rowers are out training every day for the world championships Sept. 3-10 in Belgrade, Serbia, which is the main qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The top five to 11 finishing boats in each event in Belgrade will advance to Paris, which will fill out most of the field for the Games.

“We have a history of being really successful [when the national team was based down-Island on Elk Lake over four decades],” said Rowing Canada high-performance director and former Olympic finalist Adam Parfitt of Sidney.

But that’s in the past.

“We’re not busy patting ourselves on the back. We learned a lot over the summer [during two European World Cup Regattas and Royal Henley in England] and some hard truths about where our strengths and gaps are,” said Parfitt.

“Being a two-to-three-medal nation at the Olympics [in rowing] feels right for us. We have a good group of athletes but are not there yet. We have a lot of things going for us, in a supportive community that has been good to us, and over the next month, we want to give the athletes the confidence [heading into Belgrade].”