The rhythmic gymnastics competitors in the 2023 B.C. Winter Games taking place in Vernon don’t have to look far for inspiration.
The head judge is Lori Fung, the British Columbian and first-ever Olympic gold medallist when the sport was introduced into the Games at Los Angeles in 1984. Fung will be judging the youngest athletes in the Games, including six performers from the West Coast Rhythmic Gymnastics Club of Victoria. Vanessa Seelinger, Molly MacIver, Khloe Sneek, Daelyn Bunyan, Maya Costa and Chelsea Ward range in age from nine to 12 in a sport where the athlete-development process begins early.
Fung’s golden moment nearly four decades ago was the catalyst in the growth of the sport in Canada and the West Coast club is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. West Coast club coaches Rachel Fetherstonhaugh is the head coach and Julianna Loukko assistant coach of the Island team in Vernon.
Rhythmic gymnasts from the Victoria club have medalled in the two most recent B.C. Winter Games with four bronze medals in 2018 and a silver in 2016. (Some normally Summer Games sports are mixed in with the snow and ice sports in the B.C. Winter Games to help fill out the sporting agenda).
The rhythmic gymnasts are among the 895 emerging athletes who gathered in Vernon from Thursday to today. They were backed by more than 300 coaches and 140 officials. The B.C. Games are the first step in the multi-sport Games continuum. For most, this is as good as it will get.
But for the best athletes, it is the introductory multi-sport Games experience leading to the Canada Games and, for the best few, internationally to the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games and Olympics.
According to organizers, more than 350,000 participants and volunteers have taken part in the B.C. Winter and Summer Games since their founding in 1978.
The Games began under a participation and leisure model in the early years but have since evolved into a high-performance model under the successive stewardship since 1987 of CEOs Roger Skillings, Kelly Mann and now Alison Noble. The Island, known as Zone 6, is among eight regions represented in the Games.
Olympians from the Island who got their start in the B.C. Winter and Summer Games include hockey gold medallists Micah Zandee-Hart and Jamie Benn, swimming medallists Hilary Caldwell and Richard Weinberger, cycling medallist Gillian Carleton, mountain-biker Geoff Kabush, runner Cam Levins, cyclist Ryder Hesjedal, diver Riley McCormick, triathlete Kristen Sweetland, high-jumper Mike Mason and volleyball players Fred Winters, Jamie Broder and Martin Reader, among several others.
A total of 120 B.C. Games alumni competed for Canada in the last three Summer Olympics and Paralympics at London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
There were 61 B.C. Games alumni in the past three Winter Olympics and Paralympics at Sochi 2014, Pyeongchang 2018 and Beijing 2022.