Special Olympians get record medal haul at Winter Games

Special Olympics Yukon sent their largest-ever team to the Special Olympics Winter Games last week in St. Albert, Alta. The team was bigger as were the results.

Special Olympics Yukon sent their largest-ever team to the Special Olympics Winter Games last week in St. Albert, Alta. The team was bigger as were the results. Of the seven Yukon athletes, not one left without a medal.

“I’m so incredibly proud of them,” said Amber Church, the Yukon’s chef de mission.

“It’s almost overwhelming to have them all come back with medals. They are just glowing with pride right now and I think everyone else is glowing with pride for them.

“They worked so hard this year and it really showed at the Games.”

Last week’s Winter Games had a few firsts for the Yukon. Not only did the team win a record amount of medals for the territory at the Winter Games, it was also the first time a Yukon team returned from a national championship with every athlete having won a medal.

Another first: the Yukon was represented in curling at the Games and the team won gold.

The Yukon rink, which included lead Christopher Lee, second Gaetan Michaud, third Darrin Lucas and skip Colin Sterriah, went undefeated at the Games and beat Alberta 13-2 in the gold medal game on Saturday.

“They won 13-2 but it was actually close,” said Church. “The Alberta team was very strong, it’s just that we stole a couple ends. They stole five in the final end.”

All four curlers competed at the 2010 National Summer Games in London, Ont., for soccer, winning silver. Lee also competed at the 2006 Canada Summer Games for soccer, taking in a bronze.

The team qualified for curling at the B.C. provincial championships, coming fourth.

“So they’ve improved an incredible amount in the last year,” said Church.

The curling final was centre stage as the last event of the Games, but there was still time left for some great sportsmanship after the medal ceremony.

“When the curlers stepped off the ice, the first thing they did was take off their medals, put them in their pockets, went to congratulate Alberta and spent some time with them,” said Church. “It was nice to see them so successful on the field of play – on the ice – but also successful off.”

That was not the only gold medal won on the ice. The Yukon’s Michael Sumner, the youngest member of the team, at 14, won gold in men’s Level 1 figure skating.

He skated to music from Charlie Brown, wearing a Charlie Brown sweater. It wasn’t long before he won the hearts of fans, too.

“He was a crowd favourite,” said Church. “He befriended a lot of people and by the time he stepped on the ice, half the crowd was screaming for him. He had quite a bit of attention.

“He skated incredibly well. The judge’s big comments were that he has incredible amounts of speed and power.”

Sumner qualified for the Games by winning silver at the B.C. provincial championships just over a year ago.

“Between provincials and nationals his posture and smoothness of his skating has improved quite a bit,” said Church.

The Yukon’s two other medals came from the veterans of the team, Garry Chaplin and Owen Munroe, in cross-country skiing.

Munroe skied to silver in the five-kilometre classic and also came eighth in the 7.5-kilometre. Chaplin won bronze in the 2.5-kilometre classic and placed fifth in the five-kilometre race.

“Both Owen and Garry passed quite a bit of skiers on the course,” said Church. “They were slotted in at the start line based on their qualifying times and they both moved up the pack quite a bit during the race.”

Chaplin has now competed at six national Games – summer and winter – and the 2005 World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, for cross-country skiing, winning a gold, silver and bronze. His bronze in St. Albert brings his total to five medals from the national Games.

Last week was Munroe’s fourth national Games. He previously won a bronze in soccer, a gold in skiing and two golds in athletics. He also competed at the 2009 World Winter Games in Idaho, winning two bronze medals in skiing.

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