The 2020 Winter Games in Fort St. John finished the way they started: with the stomps and claps of 1,500 of B.C.'s best young athletes.
The five-day flurry ended in high spirits Sunday, with Fort St. John and Peace region athletes well placed in the competition.
Cariboo-Northeast athletes had won 53 medals (21 gold, 18 silver, 14 bronze) at last count, and placed fourth in the medal standings. Vancouver-Coastal athletes dominated the podium, winning 111 medals.
Cariboo-Northeast medalists include (Peace region athletes bolded):
Matthew Mitchell (Fort St. John) - Speed Skating, 500m Olympic Style Boys Long Track
Cheyanne Key (Fort St. John) - Speed Skating, 500m Olympic Style Girls Long Track
Cheyanne Key (Fort St. John) - Speed Skating, 7 lap ISU Mass Start Girls Long Track
Gabby McGillvray (Progress) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 222m Women Short Track
Gabby McGillvray (Progress) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 500m Women Short Track
Gabby McGillvray (Progress) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 777m Women Short Track
Michael Ryder (Dawson Creek) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 777m Men Short Track
Benajmin Konwicki (Prince George) - Speed Skating 7 lap ISU Mass Start Boys Long Track
Liam Sinclair (Prince George), Aliah Turner (Prince George), Payton Sinclair (Prince George), Iona Cadell (Prince George) - Biathlon, Mixed Relay
Isaac Bedford (150 Mile House), Archery, Boys 2 Day Aggregate Compound
Jaeana Dumais (Quesnel) - Archery, Girls 2 Day Aggregate Barebow
Kylie Sharman (Williams Lake) - Archery, Girls 2 Day Aggregate Compound
Braden Salmon (Prince George) - Archery, Boys Match Play Recurve
Ty Thurow(150 Mile House) - Archery, Boys Match Play Compound
Liam Sinclair (Prince George) - Biathlon, Individual Boys
Payton Sinclair (Prince George) - Biathlon, Individual Girls
Liam Sinclair (Prince George) - Biathlon, Sprint Competition Boys (16:00.6)
Payton Sinclair (Prince George) - Biathlon, Sprint Competition Girls (16:29.8)
Ethan Boxtart (Prince George) - Judo, Under 60kg Male
Brooke Perepeluk (Prince George), Shelby Borschawa (Prince George), Cadence Macinnes-Budden (Prince George), Zachary Maurice (Prince George), Aaron Hein (Prince George), Dayln Hein (Prince George), Josh Holton (Prince George) - Wheelchair-Basketball, Team Competition Mixed
Matthew Mitchell (Fort St. John) - Speed Skating, 7 lap ISU Mass Start Boys Long Track
Emma North (Fort St. John) - Speed Skating, 500m Olympic Style Girls Long Track
Emma North (Fort St. John) - Speed Skating, 7 lap ISU Mass Start Girls Long Track
Michael Ryder (Dawson Creek) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 333m Men Short Track
Michael Ryder (Dawson Creek) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 500m Men Short Track
Michael Ryder (Dawson Creek) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 1000m Men Short Track
Gabby McGillvray (Progress) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 1000m Women Short Track
Kianna Sherk (Dawson Creek) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 333m Women Short Track
Julian Ritson (Dawson Creek) - Judo, Over 73kg Male
Benajmin Konwicki (Prince George) - Speed Skating, 400m Boys Short Track
Benajmin Konwicki (Prince George) - Speed Skating, 2000m Point Race Boys Short Track
Luke Spooner (Prince George), Kyle Groeneveld (Prince George) - Badminton, Boys Doubles
Adree Brulotte (Prince George) - Alpine Skiing, Slalom Two-Day Run Female (1:38.74)
Ty Thurow (150 Mile House) - Archery, Boys 2 Day Aggregate Compound
Alison Dewling (Quesnel) - Archery, Girls 2 Day Aggregate Recurve
Alison Dewling (Quesnel) - Archery, Girls Match Play Recurve
Luke Spooner (Prince George) & Kyle Groeneveld (Prince George) - Badminton, boys doubles
Anika Hollybow (Prince George) - Karate, Intermediate Kata Girls
Carla Van Zyl (Prince George) - Judo, Under 40kg Women
Noah Prieur (Fort St. John) - Karate, Intermediate Kumite 2 Boys
Michael Ryder (Dawson Creek) - Speed Skating-Special Olympics, 222m Men Short Track
Kayla Gamble (Taylor), Gracie Robinson (Fort St. John), Felicity Drschiwiski (Cecil Lake), & Anika Hollybow (Prince George) - Karate, Team Kata Girls
Braden Salmon (Prince George) - Archery, Boys 2 Day Aggregate Recurve
Jaeana Dumas (Quesnel) - Archery, Girls Match Play Barebow
Laura Balkwill (Quesnel) & Payton Sinclair (Prince George) - Biathlon, Girls Team Relay
Mitchell Dunn (Quesnel) - Figure Skating, Pre-Novice Men
Joshua Greenwood (Prince George) - Judo, Under 42g Male
Aidan Cotter (Prince George) - Judo, Under 50kg Male
Martinus Van Zyl (Prince George) - Judo, Under 73kg Male
Hayden Prevost (Prince George) - Judo Under 73kg Male
Ayden Harder (Prince George) - Judo, Over 73kg Male
Nevada Jones (Prince George) - Judo, Under 48kg Women
Benjamin Konwicki (Prince George) - Speed Skating, 500m Olympic Style Boys Long Track
Fort St. John homegrown Olympian speed skater Denny Morrison was the ambassador for this year's Games. During opening ceremonies Thursday, Feb. 20, he shared with athletes a story of growing up competing with his brother and how it helped him set goals in pursuit of personal success.
"I grew up right here in Fort St. John … chasing my older brother who was two years older than me, two years taller than me, two years stronger than me; he was faster than me, two years better looking than me. I was always in his footsteps, in his shadow," Morrison said.
"But he had me chasing and making goals, setting goals along my entire journey that brought me to the top. And it all started here in Fort St. John, with competitions like this."
Morrison is a Games alum and four-time Winter Olympic champion, winning medals in the 2006, 2010, and 2014 events. He was the world champion in 2008 and 2012.
But setbacks were no strangers to Morrison's storied career. Being successful isn't just about winning, but accepting failure too, Morrison said: Win or lose, there's something to learn.
"I guarantee you," Morrison said, grasping his medals, "if it wasn't for the various failures and missed races and falls that I had along the way, I wouldn't' be standing here today, with a medal like this, and it started with where you guys are."
Before he lit the torch, carried in by speed skater Amanda Mitchell, Morrison had the athletes stomping their feet and clapping in unison.
"You're representing yourselves and the best way you can represent yourselves is by doing your very, very best in these competitions, because these competitions are stepping stones to the next big competition and the next competition," he said. "You're going to learn along the way, and one day you get to win one of these like I did."
Before Morrison's speech and welcomes by dignitaries, the athletes and audience were treated to dazzling displays of dance by Energetic Edge cheerleaders, the Highland and Watt Irish dancers, Alchemy Dance Collective, and Studio 2 Stage. The Dane-zaa Drummers welcomed athletes with a dreamer's song, while SD60 Spirit of the Peace Dancers jingled against the backdrop of a rising sun. Bailey and Leah Mayes sang the national anthem.
Stella Jarnagin of Charlie Lake delivered the athlete's pledge at the opening ceremony:
"On behalf of all the athletes, I pledge to compete in the spirit in which the games were founded, a celebration of competition, honour, and friendship.
"I pledge to strive to be the best I can be. To rise to the challenges I meet here, and when I return home. I pledge to push beyond what is expected of me, and extend my limits in sport, academics and community.
"And I pledge to rise to the challenges I face, and share with my competitors my victories and my friendship."
Competition was fierce, friendly
A dozen planes brought the athletes, coaches, and officials into Fort St. John throughout a busy first welcoming day on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
Athletes came to compete in 15 sports: archery, badminton, biathlon, curling, diving, figure skating, gymnastics, judo, karate, rhythmic gymnastics, ringette, skiing, speed skating, and wheelchair basketball.
The Games saw a number of firsts, including the first long track speed skating event in its history. Fort St. John Elks skaters Matthew Mitchell, Cheyanne Key, and Emma North all medalled.
While the trio were expected to do better at the long track than short track, there were still nerves on the final day after they were indeed shutout in the short track events.
“I was a bit stressed after the short track, but my coaches said to put it behind you, and you know what you can do in long track so go do it,” Mitchell said.
North didn’t feel ready at all but that didn’t prevent her from winning two silver medals on Sunday.
“I was really nervous and didn’t think I was ready for the long track events, but it went very well,” she said.
Key said her ankle had been bothering her all weekend, but when the time came, she pushed through and won both long track races.
Racing at home was a thrill for the speed skaters, who had an awesome time all weekend.
“Even if we didn’t medal it would have been awesome, just with all the friends we met and all the family and friends we had around us,” North said.
In figure skating, Fort St. John’s Sophie Stevens felt the home crowd boost as well.
“Normally, you just get cheers from your team, but to have a whole section cheering for me each time I was out there was a thrill,” Stevens said.
Stevens’ goal heading into the games was to get personal bests in both her short program and long program. While she struggled to start her short program, finishing in 16th place, she was right around her best score in the long. She had a score of 30.32 to finish the long program in 15th spot and 15th in the pre-novice women’s figure skating event overall.
“It was a lot of fun. Not the best results I’ve ever had, but my goal was to take in the experience and enjoy it and I absolutely did,” said Stevens.
Stevens had the unique opportunity to be one of the few Zone 8 athletes selected to carry the banner into the opening ceremonies. Helping her carry the banner was Rilyn Clement, representing Fort St. John and Zone 8 in badminton.
“Carrying the banner was such an honour, and the opening ceremonies felt like the Olympics. There was such a rush through your body, and we got really pumped up and inspired,” said Clement.
Like the speed skaters, the five local badminton players — Clement, Dyson Felix, Landon Bruvold, Quinelle Pereira, and Paige McPherson — had a tough start to the games on Friday, February 21.
The level of competition they faced and the nerves they experienced was brand new to them, as all players are new to badminton and playing at this high a level. However, that night, Clement, along with Luke Spooner of Prince George, won their mixed doubles match in a three-set thriller with the whole crowd looking on.
From there, the team was much more relaxed, and performed a lot better. Clement won a singles match during the team event, and Zone 8 finished fourth in the team event, narrowly missing out on a medal. Felix finished fourth in the boys singles event, and won the Boys Most Sportsmanlike award.
“Winning those two matches was a big achievement for me since I haven’t been playing for that long,” said Clement.
Badminton coach Rishav Sharma was thrilled at how far the players have come since they first started playing badminton with him in September.
“I’m very happy with how they are performing. I told them even if they lose, it’s OK. They are learning so much, and I want them to just enjoy the games,” said Sharma. “Already they are performing so much better on day two now that they’re more confident and comfortable.”
The Games were also an important first for Para Nordic skier Kaden Baum, who competed in his first Winter Games, and was the only Para Nordic skier to race at Beatton Provincial Park.
For Special Olympic figure skaters competing in Taylor, the Games were a chance to highlight the inclusivity in sport. “We've accomplished lots of goals and conquered major fears," coach Kailee Bowman told the Games.
Elsewhere, biathletes were welcomed and felt right at home at the competitions at North Peace Rod & Gun Club at Charlie Lake. "The town has welcomed us with open arms and everything has been exceptional!" said parent Mary Finch.
Dawson Creek played host to alpine skiing competition at Bear Mountain, while Ma Murray, Dr. Kearney, Bert Bowes, Duncan Cran, and North Peace schools also served as venues for the badminton, basketball, judo, and gymnastics events.
Guests well entertained
In between competitions, athletes and their friends and family were treated to balmy northern weather, with warm Chinook wind gusts that kept temperatures near zero.
In Centennial Park, the Doig River First Nation hosted visitors and treated them to stew and bannock and tea as part of a cultural learning experience under a traditional Beaver shelter made from wood and spruce bough. Visitors also had a chance to tour the winter festival ice sculptures, though the city had to take some down due to the wind and warmth.
Olympic bobsledder Alysia Rissling was in Fort St. John to welcome the athletes on Wednesday, and she shared stories about her journey to becoming an Olympian. Athletes kept social on Friday and Saturday nights, playing archery tag and dancing, and learning how to drum and play aboriginal hand games at the arena.
The North Peace Museum opened a special exhibit about the history of sport in Fort St. John, with displays of sporting gear from the pioneering days, including an old rock used by the Taylor Curling Club, and cross-country skis used by Roger Hadland in 1947.
The Games are estimated to have brought $1.6 million in economic activity to the city and region.
Part of its mandate was to also invest into skills development and training, and community programming.
That included, among others, certifying six new archery judges for the New Totem Archery Club. Vice-president Andy Fochuk says that means the club can now host regional, provincial, and national competitions in Fort St. John.
Some 20,000 meals were prepared for the athletes, coaches, officials, and volunteers taking part in the event, with the Games shopping list including an estimated 15,000 eggs, 13,000 sausages, 400 pounds of tomatoes, and nearly 6,000 slices of cheese.
Recycling and organic waste vermicomposting were key in efforts to shrink the event's footprint and spare the landfill from unnecessary refuse. After the first two days and 5,000 meals later, the Games said all the waste filled just a single garbage bag.
It was part of a plan to get the Games as close to zero waste as possible, said Karen Mason-Bennett, who led the efforts. Part of that includes a worm composting program at the North Peace landfill, where worms will break down organic waste into nutrient-rich soil. Later this spring, 150 pounds of worms will be brought here from Fort Nelson to pilot the project at the landfill.
Meanwhile, unserved leftover food was packaged by the Northern Environmental Action Team into single-serve meals to go to the Salvation Army food bank.
Organizers and volunteers
President Darren Snider and Vice-President Dee-Ann Stickel led the organizing committee to host the Games, and oversaw the recruitment of an estimated 2,000 volunteers that welcomed, fed, shuttled, aided, and celebrated with the athletes.
The committee was rounded out by Pat Lang, Tony Zabinsky, Margaret May, Patricia Sagert, Lynette Cordonier, Kendra Delitche, Judy Neumeier, Jennifer Moore, Neil Evans, Stephanie Giesbrecht, Heather McCracken, Curtis Redpath, Angela Telford, and Cindy Dettling.
They were in turn supported by another 100 volunteer chairs to plan all the fine details.
"It's been an amazing experience watching all the volunteers come together, from all walks of life," said Stickel. "We're overwhelmed with how many people have come out to help these athletes have the experience that they've had."
The Games are a costly endeavour, supported by base funding of $560,000 provided by the province of B.C. through the BC Games Society. Another $40,000 was contributed for various sport infrastructure and equipment to see the needs and requirements of the Games.
The City of Fort St. John provided $50,000 cash and $50,000 of in-kind services, while School District 60 provided classrooms for dorms, facilities for sports venues, and buses for transportation.
The District of Taylor provided a $10,000 cash donation, and waived ice rental fees for the use of the arena for figure skating events.
The Games raised $1 million in cash and in-kind sponsorship, with a record level of in-kind contributions from local businesses.
The event ended Sunday afternoon with performances by the North Winds Community Band under the direction of Sabrina Brooks.
The band was accompanied by the North Peace Community Choir, the Northern Lights Community Choir, and the Alleluiah Children's Choir, who gave athletes a send-off performance of Chariots of Fire and Queen's We Will Rock You, once again getting them stomping feet and clapping hands.
Speed skater Benjamin Konwicki of Prince George was overwhelmed with emotion after being named the recipient of the William R. Bennett Award for athletic excellence. The award comes with a $2,500 bursary.
Sixteen other athletes were recognized with leadership awards and scholarships, including ringette player Avery Bjorn of Prince George, and speed skater Nolan Vansickle of Prince George from the Cariboo-Northeast team.
The Games flag was passed on to community representatives from Maple Ridge, which will host the Summer Games this year, before the torch was extinguished and the Games officially brought to an end.
Doig River Councillor Gary Oker sent athletes home with quick language lesson, teaching them how to say "I'm happy" in the Dane-zaa language. The city cheered along athletes in the spirit worthy of the city, Mayor Lori Ackerman said.
"Sports in Fort St. John thrives on the commitment of volunteers who generously give their time and skills, and they are ambassadors and our champions," Ackerman said.
"The resilient and hardworking teams and volunteers have always provided us with the opportunity to welcome visiting teams, and I know that future Games will provide opportunities for other communities to showcase their local cultures."
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.