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Island karate athletes use B.C. Winter Games as launching pad

Island zone finishes third in medal standings in Quensel
Saanich-based karate medallists, from left, Joann Huang, Wakana Shin and Pahal Kaku returned from Quesnel with six medals between them. VARSITY PERFORMANCE KARATE

The Budokan is a long way from Quesnel. But sport is nothing if not a continuum. Kraig Devlin managed the Canadian karate team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the Budokan, the most iconic and revered venue in the sport.

Devlin also this week celebrated the combined six medals that three of his Varsity Performance Karate athletes from Saanich — Wakana Shin, Pahal Kaku, Joann Huang — brought home from the 2024 B.C. Winter Games in Quesnel.

The B.C. Games are the entry-point into the multi-sport Games development system leading to the Western Canada Games and Canada Games. The best will go on internationally to the Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games and Olympics. It has been the path taken by the likes of 2024 Paris Olympics-bound athletes such as Canadian and North American marathon record-holder Cam Levins of Black Creek and Tokyo Olympics gold-medallist rower Avalon Wasteneys of Campbell River.

Among Island Olympians or Paralympians to get their multi-sport start in the B.C. Summer and Winter Games are Wasteneys, Levins, Micah Zandee-Hart, Jamie Benn, Michael Saunders, Emma Entzminger, Gary Reed, Riley McCormick, Ryder Hesjedal, Hilary Caldwell, Richard Weinberger, Mike Mason, Geoff Kabush, Michelle Stilwell, Rick Say and Clare Rustad.

“I am glad to be from a province that has this multi-sport Games model,” said Devlin, the former high-performance director of Karate Canada, who is now the high-performance director of Boxing Canada.

“I call them the B.C. Olympics because it’s the first chance for a lot of our provincial competitors to be at an event with athletes from other sports and stay in an athletes village setting.”

Devlin now turns his ­attention to the real thing with ­Boxing Canada as he prepares the nation’s top fighters for the last-chance Paris Olympic trials upcoming in Milan, Italy, and Bangkok, Thailand.

There were 30 B.C. Games alumni who represented Canada in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics, including gold-medallist hockey player Zandee-Hart of Saanichton, who got her multi-sport Games start in the 2012 B.C. Winter Games in Vernon. There have been 70 B.C. Games alumni in the past three Winter Olympics and Paralympics. There were 35 B.C. Games alumni at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, including rowing gold-medallist rower Wasteneys of Campbell River and softball bronze-medallist Entzminger of Victoria.

“Each sport sets its own pathway,” said Devlin. “In karate, we send our top 12-13 year-olds to the B.C. Games while judo sends its top 16-17 year olds.”

More than 800 competitors competed in the 2024 B.C. Winter Games last weekend in Quesnel, which made news because the ski and snowboard events had to be cancelled to lack of snow. Several traditional Summer Games sports are included in the B.C. Winter Games to fill out the agenda.

The Island placed third in the medal count in Quesnel, among the eight regional teams, with 63 behind Vancouver Coastal’s 91 and Fraser River’s 89.

It’s just the first step for the likes of Games karate medallists Shin, Kaku and Huang, who now prepare for the provincials in Richmond and national karate championships in July in Laval, Que.

The 2024 B.C. Summer Games are July 18-21 in Maple Ridge.