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Victoria Boardworks trio dives into Birmingham Games

BIRMINGHAM, England — Nearly three decades after the last javelin was thrown, shuttlecock smashed and pedal pushed, the ripples from the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games are still being felt among the Canadian team here in the 2022 Games.
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Victoria Boardworks diver Celina Toth finished sixth in the women’s 10-metre platform final Thursday at the Commonwealth Games. She’ll compete in the synchro event today. MIKE GERTON, AP

BIRMINGHAM, England — Nearly three decades after the last javelin was thrown, shuttlecock smashed and pedal pushed, the ripples from the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games are still being felt among the Canadian team here in the 2022 Games.

The organization 94 Forward, which administers the legacy fund from the Victoria Games capitalized at more than $20 million, helps fund the triathletes, middle-distance runners and cyclists who represent Canada around the world. The swimmers who won 20 medals, including seven gold, in these Birmingham Commonwealth Games all came through the Canadian trials held in April at Saanich Commonwealth Place.

That legacy facility from the 1994 Games is also still creating ripples in the diving pool with three members of the Victoria Boardworks Club competing for Canada in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Tokyo Olympian Celina Toth is joined here in the Games by Boardworks teammates Bryden Hattie and Renée Batalla. Toth is contesting the women’s 10-metre and 10-metre syncho events, ­Hattie the men’s one-metre, three-metre and three-metre synchro and Batalla the women’s 10 metre.

“I feel like these are my grand-divers and I have a great deal of pride in that since I started the Boardworks Club as a legacy of the Victoria Games,” said Boardworks founder Mitch Geller, now chief technical officer of Diving Canada.

The Boardworks trio range in age from Games rookie Batalla, 15, to Olympian Toth, 30.

“It’s awesome to have three divers from our club in the Commonwealth Games, especially a new face like Renée [Batalla],” said Toth.

“It’s weird now being the oldest and veteran leader. When I get out there on the boards in front of these large Games crowds, I feel like a rookie just like Renée.”

This is big move up from junior ranks for Batalla.

“It’s great to get experience with such high-level athletes,” said the Victoria teen, who went from a shock qualifier in the Canadian trials at Saanich Place to a name now to watch.

“These are the biggest crowds I’ve seen in my life. But I just tune it out,” said Batalla, calm and composed beyond her years.

This could be the start of a very special journey for the young Islander: “It would be amazing to make the Paris 2024 Olympics at 17 years old. But if I miss them, I believe I will make Los Angeles 2028.”

Said Geller of his emerging potential prodigy: “Renée’s talent is unshakeable and she is only just breaking through.”

Hattie, 21, comes into the Commonwealth Games after taking the 2022 NCAA Div. 1 bronze medal in men’s 10 metre this spring with the University of Tennessee Volunteers and was eighth to start off in the Games in the men’s one-metre Thursday and goes for the podium in his other events today through Monday.

“To have three Boardworks divers competing globally here in Birmingham is so cool and says a lot about our club,” said the Claremont Secondary graduate.

“There is a real sense of family in Boardworks.”

Boardworks head coach Tommy McLeod is an assistant coach for Canada at the Games.

“It ruined our summer in a most awesome way,” he said, with a laugh.

“We believe in teaching the basic movements and fundamentals of diving at Boardworks and those act as building blocks.”

Where this trio may go is from Birmingham to Paris.

With much of Canada’s Golden Generation of divers, which have been reliable medal producers at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, now retired, a new group is being developed and has produced gold, silver and bronze so far in Birmingham with diving running through Monday.

“We don’t view it as a rebuild — just a transition to the next wave,” said Geller.

In a highly-anticipated Canadian event today, women’s 10-metre bronze-medallist Caeli McKay of Calgary teams with individual sixth-place Toth to go for gold in the 10-metre sycnhro event.

More than 50 Island or Island-based athletes are competing in the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, including podium-favoured hammer thrower Adam Keenan of ­Victoria today at Alexander Stadium. The Games run through the closing ceremony Monday.

Australia leads the medal table with 140, followed by host England with 131 and third-place Canada with 67.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com