November 20, 2017

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Canada Games medals unveiled

The official medals for the 2017 Canada Summer Games were unveiled Thursday morning at the Manitoba Club, where the prizes were modelled by some of the country's most decorated athletes.

Olympians including Cindy Klassen, Jennifer Botterill, Natalie Spooner, Kaitlyn Lawes and Adam van Koeverden -- all former Canada Games participants -- sported the medals, which feature designs by local Métis artist Kenneth Lavallee.

For Lavallee, who was chosen to design the medals last year after a national call for Indigenous artists, the reveal was the first time he got to see his work in its final form in person, around the necks of local athletic heroes, no less.

"It's nice to finally see it up close," said Lavallee, 33, who worked on the medal design for several months leading up to the Games.

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The official medals for the 2017 Canada Summer Games were unveiled Thursday morning at the Manitoba Club, where the prizes were modelled by some of the country's most decorated athletes.

Olympians including Cindy Klassen, Jennifer Botterill, Natalie Spooner, Kaitlyn Lawes and Adam van Koeverden — all former Canada Games participants — sported the medals, which feature designs by local Métis artist Kenneth Lavallee.

Kenneth Lavallee's medal design focuses on the sun and its emanating rays, with the bottom band of the sun representing the meeting of the Assiniboine and Red rivers. At the sun's centre is a drum, and nearby a Métis infinity symbol is featured along with an inukshuk. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Kenneth Lavallee's medal design focuses on the sun and its emanating rays, with the bottom band of the sun representing the meeting of the Assiniboine and Red rivers. At the sun's centre is a drum, and nearby a Métis infinity symbol is featured along with an inukshuk. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)

The 2017 Canada Games medals, shown off by (from left) Adam Van Koeverden, artist Kenneth Lavallee, Manitoba Olympian Cindy Klaassen, and Olympian Jennifer Botterill at an event Friday morning at the Manitoba Club. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

The 2017 Canada Games medals, shown off by (from left) Adam Van Koeverden, artist Kenneth Lavallee, Manitoba Olympian Cindy Klaassen, and Olympian Jennifer Botterill at an event Friday morning at the Manitoba Club. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)

For Lavallee, who was chosen to design the medals last year after a national call for Indigenous artists, the reveal was the first time he got to see his work in its final form in person, around the necks of local athletic heroes, no less.

"It's nice to finally see it up close," said Lavallee, 33, who worked on the medal design for several months leading up to the Games.

In his designs, Lavallee was careful to indicate the importance of Canada's Indigenous people and to acknowledge the Games will be played on Indigenous land. That opportunity to represent the significance of those elements of Canadian history contributed heavily to Lavallee's interest in getting involved with the medal design.

Throughout the design process, Lavallee worked closely with Indigenous elders who were working with the organizing committee to create the best possible result.

Lavallee's end product focuses on the sun and its emanating rays, with the bottom band of the sun representing the meeting of the Assiniboine and Red rivers. At the sun's centre is a drum, and nearby a Métis infinity symbol is featured along with an inukshuk.

Though he doesn't consider himself a massive sports fan, seeing his designs on something that will be important to hundreds of athletes for the rest of their lives is a gratifying feeling for Lavallee.

Klassen participated in three Canada Games, and the former speedskater— tied with fellow Winnipegger Clara Hughes as Canada's winningest Olympian with six medals, including five at the 2006 Turin Olympics — never managed to snag a Canada Games medal of any colour.

"I've never won a Canada Games medal, so it's a neat feeling to wear it," she laughed Thursday. "It's something I strived for as a Canada Games athlete, and it helped propel myself in my speedskating career."

Van Koeverden earned a bronze medal at the 1997 Canada Summer Games, held in Brandon, before going on to become one of the world's best kayakers, taking home four Olympic medals and two World Championships. Van Koeverden understands how significant winning one, or even competing for one, is for young athletes.

"Whether it's a stepping stone, or their pinnacle, or their dream goal, or just another medal for their trophy case, these mean a lot and they represent a ton of hard work, dedication and pride of place and province," van Koeverden said.

Lavallee isn't competing in any athletic events, but he still gets to take home three medals- one bronze, one silver and one gold- as a token of his effort and fine craftwork.

"I'll probably wear them for a month," Lavallee joked. "Then I'll give them to my mom to display or whatever she'd like with them."

And when he's an old man, surrounded by grandchildren asking about their grandfather's medal collection?

"I'll tell them I won the 100-metre race."

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

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