By Sean Rooney on February 13, 2016.
Athletes are on their way.
Food is being prepared.
Programs are printed.
Venues are ready.
The stage is set for the Alberta Winter Games.
How does it feel after two years of planning to be on the precipice?
“I think more excitement, I don’t think we’re really nervous at all,” said Games manager Kara Brake, in the midst of folding materials Friday at the Games office. “We’ve got really great chairs and directors, so it’s easy.”
Excitement was indeed the word of the day as Medicine Hat prepared to host thousands of athletes, spectators and officials from Saturday until Tuesday.
Opening ceremonies take place Saturday night, with medals up for grabs starting Sunday morning at venues around the city and at Elkwater. For many of the 11- to 17-year-old competitors, it’ll be a highlight of their sporting career. Alberta’s mini-Olympics features 20 sports, with teams designated by one of eight regions â€”Medicine Hat being part of Zone 1, Sunny South.
“I’m really excited, I’m really excited for opening ceremonies and the chance to play with the new girls I met from Coaldale,” said girls volleyball player Abby MacQuarrie.
“I was amazed, there were 60-some girls that tried out and I was really proud that I made it.”
Six of MacQuarrie’s Seven Persons Wolves teammates also made the cut, so they might have an early jump on the competition. In many cases teams are full of great athletes who have never played together before.
But winning isn’t necessarily the most important thing they’ll take from this week.
“All I remember is the opening ceremonies, the singing and the camraderie, staying in the school in our classroom, that’s what I remember,” said Red Deer’s Brenda Lindseth, who competed in basketball in the 1989 Alberta Summer Games in Brooks. “I don’t remember the scores, I don’t even remember who we played.”
Lindseth’s son, Colby, is on the Zone 4 boys volleyball team this year. Brenda stopped in to the Games office Friday to pick up some wristbands, but stayed to help the organizing committee fold maps. Because even though these are Medicine Hat’s Games, they’re also Alberta’s.
Asked what she hopes Colby takes from the experience, medals were not on top of Brenda’s list.
“I hope he gets the memories that I had. I still remember walking in to that opening ceremonies when I went, and that blew me out of the water. Because it really felt like I made it, I’m somebody.”
For the hometown athletes, the extra attention and fan support will amplify those feelings. Some have never taken part in a multi-sport games. In all, 60 youth from Medicine Hat and 15 from nearby towns such as Redcliff, Dunmore and Elkwater are set to perform.
“I won’t have to take the long trip on the bus with the bus legs,” noted 13-year-old Hat wrestler Morris Smith. “I can just wake up and go over. I’ll have the home advantage.”
Meanwhile, kids from Grande Prairie got on a bus around 11 p.m. Friday night, starting the long journey south. But there’s something to be said for spending that much time together, too.
Times have changed since Medicine Hat last hosted the Alberta Winter Games in 2002; Brake noted social media and improved technology are the most notable. But things like long bus rides and sleeping in school gyms remain part of the experience. Biathlon without skis is being reprised, as well.
Due to warm weather melting snow at the biathlon venue in Elkwater, it’s now a shoot-and-run event in Medicine Hat. But the weather gods have shown some mercy to the other alpine events in Elkwater, with what’s known as a polar vortex cooling off temperatures Canada-wide and possibly sending some snow Elkwater’s way Saturday.
Still, cross country was reduced from three days to two due to a lack of snow. It’ll now finish at the Elkwater Golf Club on Monday.
“It’s exciting that we don’t have to cancel anything, because we want these kids to come and experience it,” said Brake. “A lot of these kids, being 11-17, will be the most competitive thing they compete in in their life.
“If you look at the alumni, it’s really cool. You get Kurt Browning and some of those big names, and you think they were those same 11-17-year-old kids that were competing in these games. So it’s exciting that way.”