99 days and counting

There was no countdown timer, no balloons and no mascots to be seen as the Canada Games kicked off its 99-day sprint to the finish.

There was no countdown timer, no balloons and no mascots to be seen as the Canada Games kicked off its 99-day sprint to the finish.

Just a procession of athletes, politicians, a TV personality and a translator led into the legislative assembly by a single drummer.

That was followed by a little dead air as organizers sought to link the three northern premiers by videoconference.

Once that vidlink was established, Premier Dennis Fentie, Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik and NWT Premier Joe Handley thanked volunteers for their hard work and announced the beginning of the 99-day countdown to the opening ceremonies on February 23, 2007.

“It’s hard to imagine that we’re in the home stretch leading up to the Games,” said Fentie. “It’s a very significant milestone in terms of the long journey we have taken.”

“There has been decades of effort to bring the Games North, and many years of planning to put together a bid,” said host society president Piers McDonald. “This is the time to mark the final countdown.”

He added that it’s traditional to mark the 99-days-out point in Games planning culture.

“It’s a chance to celebrate where we’ve gone, and prepare for where were going,” he said, adding that the Games have solid, reliable funding agreements from all governments and are close to meeting the $7-million target for private fundraising.

Fentie and McDonald were joined in the legislature by Hockey Night in Canada’s Kelly Hrudey, a former NHL goalie.

“I’m a big fan of amateur sport, so I’m happy to be here,” said Hrudey. “Some of us are lucky enough to play professionally, but we’re all amateurs at one time.”

A number of Yukon athletes who are training for the Games were also part of the ceremony, including skier Emily Nishikawa, hockey player Alex McDougall and special Olympian Edward Kay.

One of the few athletes in Canada Games history to win a medal in both summer and winter games, Sean Sheardown carried the Yukon flag.

During his speech, NWT premier Joe Handley chose to highlight the Inuit sports and Dene games, which will debut as a demonstration event in Whitehorse.

“The aboriginal games will be profiled, and I urge you all to watch these athletes compete in very unusual and highly skilled competitions,” he said from Yellowknife.

“These are the first pan-northern Games, and the first Games North of 60, but I’m sure not the last,” he added.

“This is the first opportunity in the history of this country for the North to host the South, in the North, for a major national event,” said McDonald.

“We know the eyes of the country will be watching us, and we want to put our best foot forward. We’re looking forward to hosting 22 first-class sporting championships — all at once.”

 Fentie estimated that 7,000 people will visit the Yukon during the two-week event, and that the economic impacts of the Games are already being felt and will have lasting effects on the community.

He also urged people that have not yet volunteered for the Games to step up. “Now is the time to get on board,” he said.

“Join in the spirit of the Games, join Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut — not only in the sporting events themselves, but in nation building, which the Games contribute to.”