Yukon Special Olympians golden at winter nationals

Yukon athletes gave golden performances at the 2016 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games last week. Every single one of them.

Yukon athletes gave golden performances at the 2016 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games last week.

Every single one of them.

All five Team Yukon athletes climbed to the top of the podium at the quadrennial Games in Corner Brook, N.L., coming away with a team record of eight medals in total.

It is the first time every member of a Yukon team has collected a gold medal at a Special Olympics Games, summer or winter.

“I believe that’s never happened before and I feel really proud of Yukon,” said team member Owen Munroe.

Munroe was one of three cross-country skiers to represent Yukon in Corner Brook. He won gold in the five-kilometre classic race in Division 2.

However, he had more to say about a bronze he won in the 7.5-kilometre classic in Division 1.

“I feel very good. I got in the top category and got third place and got the fourth fastest time in Canada for Special Olympics,” said Munroe.

“Yeah, I’m happy.”

“That’s a significant moment for Owen because he’s really been improving and moving up and beginning to compete with all the fastest skiers in Canada,” said Yukon ski coach Helen Slama.

Munroe is no stranger to big events. The 28-year-old team veteran captured two bronze at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho.

“This one was awesome. This is the farthest I’ve ever been (for a Games),” said Munroe. “The weather was quite crazy. We got lots of snow and then it got very mild and then got lots of rain. On the day of racing they had to cancel and postpone it to the next day when the snow arrived.

“At Blow Me Down (ski club) they had a bunch of high school students shovel snow to preserve the trails.”

Teammates Ernest Chua and Darby McIntyre each skied to a gold and silver last week.

Chua won gold in the 500-metre classic and silver in the one-kilometre classic.

“The boys have all been working really hard … They’ve been doing activities all summer and dry-land training,” said Slama. “All their hard work really paid off. They were training four days a week for almost six months and it showed.”

McIntyre sped to gold in the 7.5-kilometre classic – winning by almost 10 minutes – and silver in the five-kilometre classic. Both medals were won in Division 1.

McIntyre is fast in winter and summer. He won gold and bronze in athletics – track running – at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, Calif.

“Darby is an exceptional athlete,” said Slama. “People have to remember, he got silver, but the fellow who got gold was the gold medalist at the last Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea … He should be proud of that silver medal because his competitor was an exceptional international athlete.”

Yukon was golden on the skating rink in Corner Brook twice over.

Yukon’s figure skaters, Mike Sumner and Tijana McCarthy won gold in Level 2 and Level 1, respectively.

It was twice in a row for Sumner, who won gold at the 2012 Games. He later won silver at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.

“They both skated their best, the best they have all year,” said Yukon skating coach Michelle Semaschuk. “Unfortunately they didn’t have any competition; the other contingents didn’t send anybody in their level … But it doesn’t take away from the fact that they went, trained all year and they still deserve that. They both have improved a ton.”

Skaters at the Games were judged using Skate Canada’s STAR program that grades elements from merit, to bronze, to silver, up to gold.

McCarthy scored bronze in seven elements and silver in one. Sumner scored silver in three elements, bronze in two and merit in one.

Last week was McCarthy’s first national winter Games.

“Tijana is a really big performer. She loves the crowd, so she’s always very exciting and fun to watch,” said Semaschuk. “She does a really good job interpreting her music and gets the crowd involved.

“Mike did the two jumps in his program really, really well. He has high skating skills and got silvers on his performance and execution.”

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