A total of 145 young athletes from the Yukon are competing at the 2022 Canada Summer Games in Niagara, Ont., which began Aug. 6 and will continue until Sunday, Aug. 21.
The Canada Summer Games is the largest amateur multi-sport event in the country. Niagara 2022 brings together more than 2,000 athletes competing in 18 sports along with 3,000 coaches, managers and support staff, a press release states. The Games were originally planned for 2021 but got postponed due to the pandemic.
A charter plane with week one Team Yukon athletes departed from the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport bright and early Aug. 5.
The team hasn’t been to such a big competition for three years. They were all geared up and ready to attend the 2020 Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, but those were cancelled. Niagara 2022 is the first major games being hosted by Canada since the onset of the pandemic.
Sport Yukon executive director Tracey Bilsky says this “gives the Games a lot of meaning.”
“Even though there was lots of uncertainty, the athletes and coaches stayed diligent in their training to be ready for Niagara,” she said.
Among the 100 athletes on board the first flight were players of the men’s soccer team and their assistant coach, Jake Hanson. They recently lost their top scorer to a professional contract, but Hanson still has high hopes for the team and calls them “a golden generation for the Yukon.”
Cyclist Mara Roldan was also on board the plane. She won gold at the road nationals earlier this summer in the junior criterium and was chosen as Team Yukon’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies.
The team’s strength lies in its hard work, sportsmanship and passion, according to Minister of Community Services Richard Mostyn. All these qualities will be seen on display as they take the court, field, beach, pool, mat and track to compete.
Mostyn is proud to support athletes and their growth as individuals, leaders and community members.
“These athletes continue to showcase our territory’s talent, drive, and dedication on national stages,” he said.
The Government of Yukon is the main funder and organizer of Team Yukon. They provided more than $170,000 to support their attendance at these Games.
Trevor Twardochleb, the team’s chef de mission, has participated in the Canada Summer and Winter Games since 1999 and says he loves everything about them.
“I really like to be a part of whatever I can when it comes to assembling the team and helping ensure staff and athletes have a wonderful experience,” he said.
Twardochleb attended the Arctic Winter Games as a hockey player and understands what it’s like to compete in a high-pressure environment. Because of this, he is “weary” about placing any expectations on any of the athletes.
“Every coach and athlete has already put a lot of pressure on themselves,” he said. “I don’t want to add any more stress. I want to make this a positive experience. I want them to be super comfortable so that they can go out there and do their very best.”
He believes there will be some “big hitters” at these Games, like Mara Rolden, but acknowledges she will be up against athletes who are much older than her. He anticipates medals for Team Yukon in the winter, but “in the summer, it’s tougher.”
Having had their Games pushed back a year, Twardochleb said the uncertainty made it hard for organizers in Niagara to maintain momentum.
But now that the Games are finally happening, “the whole region is excited, and that excitement is growing,” he said.
“There are so many happy, motivated and relieved people working together to kick this thing off.”
With relief and excitement, however, comes some apprehension.
“COVID-19 is still a very real contender,” Twardochleb said. “There have been people sick on the team and I am constantly asking myself, ‘Are they going to get on the flight? Are they going to be okay on time?’”
He is hoping no events get cancelled and athletes manage to stay safe so all their hard work pays off.
He is “very pleased” with the fact that every member of Team Yukon is staying together in one residence at the Brock University campus.
“It’s so nice they get to be a part of a tight-knit community,” said Twardochleb. “There’s enough athletes from the Yukon able to support their teammates at each of the events and venues.”
He wants to give a shoutout to everyone it takes to put on these Games, from the athletes, coaches and managers to the parents, sponsors, funders and volunteers.
The Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games are broadcasting more than 1,000 hours of live Games coverage from Aug. 6 to 21 on a free streaming platform. Canadians nationwide can watch over 90 per cent of the sporting competitions live.
For event livestreams and schedule, visit niagara2022games.ca/watch
To learn more about Team Yukon, visit sportyukon.com/team-yukon.
Results so far
Four days into the Canada Summer Games in Niagara, Team Yukon has experienced both victories and defeats.
Team Yukon’s men’s soccer team has already made history, defeating Novia Scotia 3-0 in their first match on Aug. 8.
This makes them the first Yukon team to win a soccer game against one of the provinces at any Canada Summer Games or Western Canada Summer Games, according to Team Yukon’s communications manager Odile Nelson.
Their assistant coach, Jake Hanson, calls them “a golden generation for the Yukon.”
The team “fought hard” and were “tenacious” in their second game on Aug. 9, but lost 2-0 against Alberta, according to a Team Yukon press release.
They will fight for a chance at the semi-finals on Aug. 11 when they play British Columbia at 4:30 p.m. EST.
Mara Roldan, Team Yukon’s flag bearer for the Games, had a “nasty fall” and was not able to finish the female cross country mountain bike race, a press release states.
The recent junior nationals champion had to deal with wet and muddy racing conditions during the Aug. 8 12 p.m. race after a rainy morning.
Roldan wasn’t the only rider to fall or struggle. Nine athletes pulled out and many racers ended up walking considerable sections of the course.
Of the 21 cyclists who were registered, only 12 competed and 10 crossed the finish line.
Aug. 8 and 9 were “full days” with “definite highlights” for Team Yukon’s swimming team, according to chef de mission, Trevor Twardochleb.
Swimmers qualified for five final races, including the men’s 400-metre freestyle where Thomas Gishler won the ‘B’ final and finished ninth place overall.
He also competed in the 200-metre butterfly finals, placing tenth overall.
Oliver Cull, Reese Jackson, Sabine Keesey and Melody Qiu put out a “speedy time” of 4:50.77 in the 4x100 relay medley mixed final.
Twardochleb said all individual athletes and teams put forward “efforts to be proud of.”
The wrestling competition began on Aug. 9 with the team events.
Team Yukon’s female and male wrestling teams “got the dragons out of the way” first, losing to British Columbia and Ontario.
Male wrestling team members Eban Basnett and Jayden Iskra won two rounds against Newfoundland.
Female wrestler Jaymi Hinchey earned her first win of the Games pinning down her opponent from Saskatchewan in one of the rounds.
Contact Magan Carty at email@example.com
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Tracey Bilsky and Mara Roldan’s names. The News apologizes for this error.