Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Record medal haul for Team 'Toba at Games

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THE instant Sam Vincent stepped over the finish line, just 14 tenths of a second faster than the Albertan athlete behind, he didn't just earn bronze. Instead, when the 21-year-old clinched that men's 1,500-metre medal on Thursday night, he officially pushed Team Manitoba to its heaviest-ever Canada Games hardware collection.

At least 30 young athletes or teams will return from Sherbrooke, Que. this week wth medals around their necks, the province's best showing yet. Before Thursday, the highest tally was 29, set in 1989, and Team Manitoba chef de mission Ted Bigelow came into the Games figuring that record could be beat. "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity," Bigelow said on Friday, paraphrasing a Roman philosopher. "And we came prepared."

They came prepared on the water, where Manitoba's Hannah Guttormson and Stephanie Lowrie claimed Manitoba's first women's canoe-kayak gold in the 5,000m pairs. They came prepared on the pitch, where the women's softball squad brought home a silver, their highest finish yet, and on the courts, where the men's basketball team earned a silver medal too.

The track team came prepared: Winnipeg's Julia Zrinyi, 19, cruised a clear lane to a 1,500-metre gold on Thursday -- the record-tying 29th medal -- even as she battled shin splits. "I was so happy, I even threw my hands in the air, and I never do that," laughed Zrinyi, a 2012 Vincent Massey grad who made the world juniors last year. "It was all about getting in the right position at the right time, and the timing worked out in my favour."

But the story of Manitoba's performance at this year's Canada Games goes beyond victories. Inside the medal standings are hints of where Manitoba sport organizers could look to building. It's no surprise, for instance, that Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia collect the lion's share of medals. But Saskatchewan had 39 medals by early Friday afternoon, and Nova Scotia -- a province with fewer than 1 million people -- had a whopping 50.

Straight numbers aren't a fair way to understand the story, though. Saskatchewan athletes cleaned up with 15 medals in wrestling, and Nova Scotia's success came largely on the water: by Friday afternoon, they had nine canoe-kayak golds, 12 silvers and seven bronzes. Those are both sports where a pile of medals are up for grabs, which can skew the totals -- and sports where Manitoba is eager to build.

By contrast, neither Saskatchewan nor Nova Scotia had picked up a team sport medal by Friday afternoon, whereas Manitoba had three, with the chance at more to come before the games wrap up this afternoon.

Here's an interesting note: both Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia earned a number of medals from para-games athletes, whereas Manitoba didn't nab one. This has not gone unnoticed. "We did a debrief with the swimming (team) already, and that was definitely the main point," Bigelow said. "With para, we can do much, much better. Right now, we're providing them with some support, but nowhere near what we can.

"We think para sports is the low-hanging fruit," he added of the development opportunity. "We're already on board, with more to do."

As competition winds down in Quebec, there could be a couple more accolades coming down for Team Manitoba too. The province is currently sitting at first place in the running for the Centennial Cup most improved team award, and is also on the radar for the team spirit and mission trophies. Those will be handed out at the closing ceremonies on Saturday.

Then Team Manitoba will come back home, fresh full of notes to carry forward to 2017, when Winnipeg will host the summer edition of the Games. This year was a good one, attendees said. "You know, the competition's just been awesome," Bigelow said. "I've seen several Olympics, and these guys are at the top level. We've seen what they're doing in terms of how they host... and where we can do the same, or better."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 C4

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