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Team Canada

Going out with a bang

Special Olympics Team Canada closed out the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games by going two for two in medals by our floor hockey squads and raking in another raft of snow sports medals, including alpine skier Michael Gilbert completing his hat trick of gold medals, all of which sent the team’s overall medal total [...]

Special Olympics Team Canada closed out the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games by going two for two in medals by our floor hockey squads and raking in another raft of snow sports medals, including alpine skier Michael Gilbert completing his hat trick of gold medals, all of which sent the team’s overall medal total to a new Canadian record.

Team Canada West jumped out to an early lead in their gold-medal game against Mexico and never took their hands off the throttle, propelling themselves to a 3-1 victory with two goals by Lee Salzl and one by Mike Siwy along with stalwart defending and clutch goaltending by Tyler Gilbert. When the buzzer sounded, they and their many Canadian fans in the stands – family, friends, and teammates – erupted in joy.

“It’s my dream come true, bringing home a medal,” Siwy said. The team had extra motivation to win gold because one of their strong defenders, Dean Boechler, was sidelined by illness and unable to play for gold. Salzl and others said they did it for him.

“I feel so happy! I can’t believe we’re world no. 1, our first medal,” talented and tough female forward Terra Dagenais said right after the team made sure they would be bringing gold medals home to Saskatchewan.

Team Canada East then took on Bangladesh in a closely fought nailbiter. Bangladesh’s early pressure allowed them to hold onto their slim lead and hold off Team Canada East’s mounting intensity as they sought to find the back of the net. But they were stymied in this match of equals, and Bangladesh earned the 2-0 victory.

“I feel sad that we came second, but it was a great game against Bangladesh, couldn’t ask for a better game,” said Matt Nighswander of Stouffville, Ont. “To get this far to the gold medal game is great… As hard as it is, you just keep reminding yourself, we’re going home with something.”

“It was an even game all the way around with those guys, that’s the way it should be,” said Jessica Porter of Newmarket, Ont. “I love being here and having the experience of my first worlds.”

Out on the snow, Special Olympics Team Canada’s alpine and cross-country skiers and snowshoeing athletes earned 15 medals in their final day of racing to take the team total to record heights.

Alpine skier Michael Gilbert of St. Donat, Que., earned his third gold medal of the Games in Tuesday’s slalom, completing his golden hat trick on the slopes of Yongpyong Resort. A veteran competing in his third World Games, Gilbert won his races by healthy margins and inspired teammates to comment admiringly on his speed.

At the snowshoeing track, Adam Wakeman of East St. Paul, Man., and Brian Wetzler of Waterloo, Ont., earned their second gold medals of the Games with their strong performances in the five-kilometre event. Jeremy Mueller of Torbay, Nfld., charged to gold in the 400m event – his specialty – and Saskatchewan’s Ed Wallace added a fourth-place finish.

The cross-country skiing crew picked up five medals on the day, with Jennifer Riddell of Calgary, Alta., charging to gold in the 2.5km and Shane Stewart, Sarah McCarthy, and Rachelle Barbeau adding silver medals. Steve Caban raced to fourth and Kevin Ellis finished fifth. In the 4x1km relay, the women’s team added a silver medal while the mixed and men’s teams finished fourth.

The day’s medal haul totalled 17, taking the team to new heights in the overall total, beyond the 2009 total of 101. But it’s the memories of the determination, joy, and sportsmanship shown by these athletes that will linger long after the memories of medal counts have faded.

In the evening, the Games Closing Ceremony was held at Yongpyong Dome and featured American skating star and Special Olympics International Board Member Michelle Kwan and Korean skating star Yuna Kim. They dedicated their performances to all Special Olympics athletes who competed during the Games. Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Tim Shriver read a heartfelt Closing Ceremony poem (read here) and there were also performances by K-Pop group The Wonder Girls, among others. See Photos or visit Ustream.Tv/SpecialOlympics to see the show.

The Closing Ceremony was a vibrant gathering to celebrate the many achievements of the thousands of athletes who took part in the Games, recognize our warm and generous hosts in the Republic of Korea, and pass the torch to the heads of the next World Games in Los Angeles.

The Parade of Nations kicked off the festivities with members of the 111 nations who participated in the Games walking out proudly to represent their teams. Alpine skiing athlete Erin Thom and Head Coach Michel Guyon showed a spirit of fun as they jumped down the red carpet and showed the great Canadian energy that all of the hardworking, cheering, dancing, and supporting team members demonstrated throughout the Games.

Canadian figure skaters Jonathan Edwards, Janie McGraw, David Mullaly-Robertson, Marc Theriault, Carlea Wilkie-Ellis, Jessica Young, and Kennedy Zaytsoff had the honour of being invited to skate with Kim and Kwan alongside a number of other Special Olympics athletes during a fun “flash mob” performance that energized and entertained the audience.

During the exciting and well-produced sets by Korean pop stars, led by The Wonder Girls, Special Olympics Team Canada athletes, coaches, and mission staff were up and dancing in the aisles, just as they did throughout the Games. The spirit and amazing accomplishments of this group will not soon be forgotten.