Yukon’s Special Olympians performed at their best in the 2014 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games last week in Vancouver, B.C.
Not only did athletes post many personal bests as individuals, the team as a whole delivered its best showing to date.
Team Yukon won 14 medals, the most ever collected by Yukon at the quadrennial national championship, up from 12 medals in 2010.
“I think it went really well,” said Yukon Chef de Mission Janine Peters. “The athletes have been training hard all year since the beginning of our season, which would have been the beginning of October. They’ve been working on a lot of different things like teamwork, nutrition, healthy eating.
“We’ve made sure the athletes know winning isn’t all about the medals, it’s learning how to be a team player.”
It was a big team that got big results. The Yukon squad was the largest ever set to the Games from Canada’s three territories with 24 athletes and 15 coaches and staff.
The largest part of the team was the soccer squad with 10 players and three coaches, and they made history.
Yukon captured its very first soccer gold in a thrilling shootout win over New Brunswick in the division C final on Saturday. Yukon won bronze at the 2006 Games and silver at the 2010 Games.
“There was a lot of emotion. The team was in tears after they won the gold medal,” said Yukon soccer coach Ken Binns.
“It was a very close, very exciting game throughout the final. It was pretty evenly matched.”
Yukon twice fought back from a goal down to finish regulation tied 2-2 and extra time tied 3-3.
The territory’s Kenny Atlin, Owen Munroe and Mike Sumner scored in the shootout to secure the win.
For Sumner, it was a “golden goal” and his first ever at a Games.
“It was amazing – the whole game was,” said Sumner. “I had my first ever soccer goal in the final goal.
“It was one of the best competitions I’ve ever had in my whole career.”
Yukon arrived in the final with a 6-0 win over P.E.I. and 2-0 over New Brunswick before a rematch in the gold medal match.
“Gaetan (Michaud) our goalie and Kenny Atlin, for sure, stood out,” said Sumner. “Owen Munroe played a really good tournament as well.”
Also playing for Yukon were Rachel Dawson, Teddy Jackson, Christopher Lee, Duncan McRae, Steven McGundy and Marvin Hall, Yukon’s flag-bearer in the opening ceremonies.
“It was very inspirational to watch all the athletes and exciting as it always is,” said Binn of the Games. “It was quite an experience for myself.”
Yukon’s Jessica Pruden and Darby McIntyre burned up the track in Vancouver.
The two athletics competitors each won two medals and set personal bests.
“I think they did really great,” said Yukon athletics coach Carmen Gustafson. “They had personal bests throughout and they were in very competitive divisions.
“Jessica’s races in the 100- and 200-metre were very close. So close I had to wait for the results to know if she got third or fourth.”
McIntyre, the youngest on the team at 14 years old, captured silver in the shot put and in the 5,000-metre, achieving his goal of breaking the 19-minute mark with a time of 18:57.77.
“He was strong throughout and at the finish he sprinted and it was fantastic,” said Gustafson.
McIntyre also claimed fifth in the 1,500-metre and sixth in the standing long jump.
“Darby has been working hard on running with Special Olympics and he also runs with (Athletics Yukon coach) Don White, and he has really advanced as a competitor,” said Gustafson. “Not just in his athletic ability, but his strategy, running smart races.
“The coaches from across the country were commenting on his abilities and his races. As a 14-year-old, he was surpassing older competitors with much more experience.”
Pruden threw to a bronze in shot put and then teamed up with runners from Saskatchewan to win gold in the 4×100-metre relay.
She also took fourth in the 100- and 200-metre races and fifth in the standing long jump.
“We worked a lot of the jumping and throwing,” said Gustafson. “We didn’t have access to the proper facilities for that, so we were actually using the beach volleyball courts at Rotary Park. We worked a lot on their technique in the shot put and standing long jump.”
Last week was the first time bocce was included in the national Games and Yukon won hardware in it. The territory came home with a bronze after a 16-4 win over Quebec.
“We had such good camaraderie between Quebec and Yukon,” said Yukon bocce coach Deb Sumner. “We were singing together and cheering for both teams.
“We played Quebec the day before and Quebec actually beat us.”
It was a tight competition. Yukon’s team of Aimee Lien, Taylor Amundson, Trevor Beemish and Teresa Roberts had the eventual gold winning Saskatchewan on the ropes and almost made the final.
“When we played Saskatchewan, I think seven or eight times we had game-point,” said Deb. “And then they went away with it. It was a tough one.”
Yukoners Ernest Chua and Kevin Spoffard were at their fastest in the pool.
The two swimmers each posted personal bests and won medals at their first nationals.
“I’m very impressed with the results,” said Yukon swim coach Kaitlin McDougall. “I’m most impressed with the personal bests that they achieved during the week. They have put in a lot of hard work this past year and the work paid off. I’m just incredibly proud of both Ernest and Kevin for all the hard work they’ve done to get to where they are.”
Chua took in a silver in the 200-metre freestyle and a bronze in the 50-metre freestyle with a personal best. He also grabbed fourth in the 100-metre backstroke and fifth in the 100 freestyle with a personal best.
Spoffard swam to bronze medals in the 25-metre backstroke and the 50-metre backstroke, with new personal bests in both events.
He also came fifth and sixth in the 50- and 25-metre freestyle races.
“Kevin, in the 50 freestyle and 50 backstroke, had personal bests by eight seconds in each event, which is incredible,” said McDougall. “Both Phil (Whiles) and I have coached this year and we are both proud of the effort they put in this year. Medals are great, but to see a good swim and a solid effort is what we’re there for.”
Yukon’s five-pin bowlers knocked pins en route to hardware. They won Yukon’s first-ever team medal at the national Games and came away with three individual medals as well.
Carrie Rudolph, Garry Chaplin, Hayley Halushka, Lisa Bachli and Tyler Repka won silver in the team event. Chaplin and Halushka then took silvers, and Repka a bronze, in the individual competitions.
Golfer Jean-Sebastien Gallant faced a tough course but improved his score every day in Vancouver.
The 22-year-old carded 73, 62 and a 57 in three nine-hole rounds on his way to fifth in his division.
“He was tied for second the second day and then the other golfers pulled up their socks,” said Yukon golf coach Charlene Donald.
“It was a tough course, very narrow, lots of sand,” she added. “He saw the bunkers a few times. The sand traps are so deep and have huge lips on them and we’re just not used to that.
“He did very well to get out of them so easily.”
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