Somewhere in the bustling complexes of the Canada Summer Games, Team Manitoba chef de mission Ted Bigelow is walking around with a grin on his face.
There are many reasons for that. The host city of Sherbrooke, Que. has embraced thousands of guests with warmth enough to combat the chill of drizzling rain. Sport Manitoba threw a party at the Golden Lion Pub for athletes' parents Sunday night, and almost all 300 of them came -- even though, to save money for the athletics, organizers asked them to pay their own tab.
Best of all, the athletes had a fine start out of the gate, enough to show -- Bigelow thinks -- that Sport Manitoba's new approach to team support is the right way. "The start was pretty darn good," Bigelow said on Monday, running to and from competition venues. "We really worked hard to make sure that we were prepared. I think we met our expectations... we were competitive in virtually everything."
In the first three days of Canada Games competition, Manitoban athletes locked down three medals -- one of each colour -- and in tournament play, they put up good fights. The boys baseball squad lost a 7-6 heartbreaker to Saskatchewan in extra innings on Sunday night, but before that they were rolling, and they could still bring home a medal. The girls' volleyball team won their first three games, and the girls softball team is "dominating," Bigelow said. They won their first match 16-0 against Team Newfoundland and Labrador and added three more Ws by Monday night.
As for the medalists: Winnipeg swimmer Breanne Siwicki cruised to 1500-metre freestyle gold on the first day in the pool, and added two silvers in the 200-metre butterfly and 400-metre medley finals Monday night. "It was definitely a goal for me to get at least one, so it was nice to get that out of the way," said Siwicki, 18, after winning gold.
She's already way ahead of pace.
Also over the weekend, cyclist Karlee Gendron earned bronze in her cross-country mountain bike race, then teamed up with Anna Schappert to take silver for Manitoba in the female mountain bike relay. Gendron rode two legs because teammate Hanna Boersma suffered a concussion prior to the Games.
There are more on the way, Bigelow thinks. Though grading success isn't all about medals, Manitoba usually racks up a medal count somewhere between 23 and 28, but Bigelow, also the Sport Manitoba interprovincial games director, is optimistic this year's group will break 30 to get the best provincial collection yet. The team is doing things differently, this time around. It seems to be paying off.
See, the way how things used to work was, teams would submit a grant application to Sport Manitoba, and organizers would split the pie between the teams. Now, there's no grant application, and in early 2012 an extra $1 million from the province kicked in that helped Team Manitoba pursue a more integrated development process. "We do the planning with them, we get them to analyze what are others doing to make them better, what can we do?" Bigelow said.
Example: Bigelow and his staff challenged the baseball team to identify a list of items that might lead to a competition gap. The squad came back with 22 points, and "we've implemented all of them," Bigelow said. The organization worked with the softball crew to boost athletes' speed and position play. Two staffers from Sport Manitoba's Sport Performance Centre, which was launched after the last Canada Games in 2011, are along on the trip too.
The hope for the big payoff isn't just this year in Sherbrooke: it's 2017, when Winnipeg will host the next summer edition of the Canada Games. "We're developing a sport system and method of training and preparation that can be improved on and duplicated on," Bigelow said. "We're already working with the next group now, that's the biggest difference between what we did and what we do now."