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Team Canada

Charging up the medal count

Surely it will come as no surprise to anyone that Special Olympics Team Canada is a force to be reckoned with on the ice at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Lighting up the speed skating venue in Gangneung, Republic of Korea, Stephen Graham of Orillia, Ont., captured his team-leading third gold medal of the World Games in the 1,000-metre event, while four of his teammates also medalled Sunday.

Stephen Graham

Graham is a highly regarded racer, the kind of athlete whose speed inspires his own teammates and who outskates many generic athletes. His achievement at the World Games is testament to the extra hard work he has put in to overcome a serious injury of a dislocated shoulder suffered in the fall. Graham was out for almost four weeks, did physio for six weeks after that, and worked hard to stay sharp by eating healthy and maintaining fitness as much as possible.

The Special Olympics World Winter Games is his first competition of the year, and yet he has had little trouble speeding to the top of his class in the 500m, 777m, and 1,000m events.

“He skates technically so well,” Olympic and world speed skating champion Catriona Le May Doan, Special Olympics Team Canada’s Honorary Coach, wrote on Twitter after watching and spending time with Graham and the rest of the team at the Games.
Special Olympics Team Canada speed skating Head Coach Donna Bilous said Graham is an “absolutely amazing, really focused” athlete.

At the World Games, she added, “Technically there’s no one who can challenge him.”

Graham’s teammate Katie Saunders earned a bronze medal in the 1,000m event, while Stephanie Cook and Philip Ste-Marie sped to silver and Beth Prendergast charged to bronze in the 222m.

“We’re really, really proud of this whole team,” Bilous said of the speed skaters who are high-achieving and still sportsmanlike and supportive of each other.

The team’s figure skaters wrapped up their competition on February 3 with an impressive total of 12 gold, 11 silver, and two bronze medals to their credit overall. Leading the way was Delta, B.C., athlete Marc Theriault, who shared great veteran leadership with his teammates in what is his seventh Special Olympics World Games, and who earned a gold medal Sunday in the Singles Level 5 event. His up-and-coming young teammate Jonathan Edwards took bronze in the category.

Marc Theriault

“Marc has worked incredibly hard this year, and he wanted to come and show the world that even though it’s his fourth World Winter Games, there’s still improvement,” Associate Coach Landis Warner said. “[His] double lutz, double flip – so close. There’s still more improvement to come.”

Also powering the figure skating team’s medal-winning ways were the 10 athletes who reached the top three in both their freeskate and dance or pairs events, including Alberta’s Meg Ohsada and Kennedy Zaytsoff, B.C.’s Darlene Jakubowski, New Brunswick’s Janie McGraw, Ontario’s Tim Goodacre, Jonathan Edwards, Sara McKelvie, David Mullally-Robertson and Jessica Young, and PEI’s Alyssa Chapman.

This team is definitely no slouch on snow either. Sunday’s examples include the raft of medals and strong races produced by the alpine skiers in the giant slalom – check out our results page for details – and the stirring success by the cross-country skiers and snowshoeing athletes in action.

In the 500m cross-country races, Ontario’s Raymond Bolech and B.C.’s Kevin Ellis struck gold along with Alberta’s Sarah McCarthy, while Ontario’s Philip Lock earned silver and PEI’s Ellen MacNearney bagged bronze. Rachel Bleau, Matthew Rollo, and Shelly Poland tackled the race with strong results.

Bolech’s win was a big highlight. The oldest athlete on Special Olympics Team Canada at 48 ½, Bolech has had his ups and downs throughout the national team training program process. But on the night before the 1km event, he firmly declared himself ready to race.
Cross-country skiing Head Coach Don Lavigne read determination writ large in Bolech’s racing on Sunday. “I think today he was out there to win a medal,” Lavigne said.

Bolech held onto second place through most of the race, then staged a surge at the finish line to beat his last opponent and grab the gold. The win was evidently a very meaningful moment for an athlete who has been with Special Olympics for more than 10 years and is participating in his first World Games.

“I’ve never seen so many tears coming out of a man’s eyes,” Lavigne said of Bolech’s reaction to his medal.

Alberta’s Elouise Stewart also shot to silver in the 7.5km event.

Barret Wallis

On the snowshoeing track, Special Olympics Team Canada athletes charged to gold and bronze medals in the 4×400 relay races – gold for the ladies and bronze for the men – and opened the day with stirring performances in the 200m races.

Quebec’s Matthieu Besnier and Ontario’s Jeff Pike earned gold while Ontario’s Regan Millsap sped to silver. Millsap was most pleased about the quality of her race: “I beat my time too,” she said while being congratulated on her medal.

At the award ceremonies, Pike’s mother Kathy summarized a parent’s great pride.

“The opportunity to be here is so great for their self-esteem,” Pike said. “He’s so having fun, and that’s what it’s all about. We are just so proud” of his achievements at the Games and his accomplishment just in qualifying to be here.

Snowshoeing athletes Kelsey Millan, Jeremy Mueller, Ed Wallace, and Barret Wallis also did their country and families proud with their efforts in the 200m event.

To date, Special Olympics Team Canada has earned 31 gold, 27 silver, and 16 bronze medals in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, snowshoeing, and speed skating.

Floor hockey finals are coming up on February 4 and 5. Check out the latest Greek Report for details on two more wins for Team Canada East and a big victory for Team Canada West: “Now we have a pulse,” Team Canada West player Scott Pocha said.