With the 2012 BC Winter Games set to start in Vernon in February, spirit is building in every community across British Columbia.
The brainchild of Premier W.R. Bennett, the Games began in 1978 in Penticton. Since then, 38 communities across the province have hosted the Games, including Greater Trail in 2006, some of them more than once. Over 200,000 people have volunteered and over 150,000 athletes have competed since it began.
“One of the most important benefits of hosting a BC Games is how it brings a community together,” says Henry Pejril, President of the 2006 BC Summer Games in Kamloops. “There aren’t many opportunities like a Games that can capture the full cross-section of a community. The feeling of pride and accomplishment lasts in a host city for many years to come.”
Many well-known athletes had their start at the BC Games, including Tour de France cyclist Ryder Hesjedal and 2010 Olympic women’s snowboarding cross gold medallist Maelle Ricker, who are among the alumni who say their dreams of international competition began at the BC Games.
“My Olympic success can be traced to the provincial Games in my native Manitoba and I see the BC Winter Games providing the same opportunity for young athletes today,” says BC Games Society Chair and 1976 Olympic speedskating silver medalist, Cathy Priestner Allinger. “The BC Winter Games provide rising stars an opportunity to benefit from excellent coaching, while testing their skills against B.C.’s best. Our next generation of Canada Games athletes and Olympians are getting ready for the 2012 BC Winter Games in Vernon.”
Participants are generally under the age of 18 (depending on the sport), and have the potential to move beyond local and regional competition to the national stage and beyond.
“The BC Games are an important stepping stone towards the Canada Games and ultimately the Olympic Games,” says Kelly Stefanyshyn, a former Olympic swimmer and BC Games Society board member. “Learning to (compete) for a team beyond just your sport and focus while so many events are occurring is imperative to an athlete’s success.”
According to the official website, the aim of the Games is “to provide an opportunity for the development of athletes, coaches, and officials in preparation for higher levels of competition in a multi-sport event which promotes interest and participation in sport and sporting activities, individual achievement, and community development.”
Brian Carruthers, President of the Williams Lake 2002 BC Winter Games, is proud of the achievements of B.C. athletes.
“Sport builds character in individuals and brings people together in a positive environment, whether as competitors, spectators or organizers,” he says.
The Winter Games feature 15 sports, including curling, figure skating, skiing and women’s hockey. It is expected that over 1,500 athletes and over 300 coaches will participate in the Games in February.
“I believe in the BC Games as it provides an opportunity to share the spirit with other British Columbians . . . ,” says Diana Johnstone, Operations Manager for the 2002 BC Summer Games in Nanaimo.
Surrey will host the 2012 BC Summer Games in July.
BY Kerry Vital
Special to the Times