January 17, 2018

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Athletes ready for action

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Young Manitoba rower Julia Beechinor</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Young Manitoba rower Julia Beechinor

Manitobans will be hoping to cash in on home-field advantage at the upcoming Canada Summer Games, but they’d better be careful — being at home can have its pitfalls.

Team Manitoba chef de mission Barry Moroz understands the potential problems as well as the upside.

“Being home, we don’t have the distraction of the travel, time change,” said Moroz at a Wednesday news conference to unveil Manitoba flag-bearer Emma Gray and the provincial team uniform for the Games, slated for July 28 to Aug. 13 in Winnipeg. “There are advantages to being home because we’re familiar with the environment.

“I think the biggest distraction may be family and friends. The fact that they’re going to be at all our (events), maybe there will be some extra pressure for our athletes to perform a little bit better, which they will. It could be a distraction but I think our teams are prepared for that. The athletes will all be at the village and somewhat isolated from family and friends.”

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Manitobans will be hoping to cash in on home-field advantage at the upcoming Canada Summer Games, but they’d better be careful — being at home can have its pitfalls.

Team Manitoba chef de mission Barry Moroz understands the potential problems as well as the upside.

"Being home, we don’t have the distraction of the travel, time change," said Moroz at a Wednesday news conference to unveil Manitoba flag-bearer Emma Gray and the provincial team uniform for the Games, slated for July 28 to Aug. 13 in Winnipeg. "There are advantages to being home because we’re familiar with the environment.

"I think the biggest distraction may be family and friends. The fact that they’re going to be at all our (events), maybe there will be some extra pressure for our athletes to perform a little bit better, which they will. It could be a distraction but I think our teams are prepared for that. The athletes will all be at the village and somewhat isolated from family and friends."

The Games include seasoned international athletes such as the 19-year-old Gray, an Olympic-calibre rower, as well as other, less experienced performers.

One such example is 14-year-old rower Julia Beechinor, who is slated to compete in the women’s fours competition at the Games rowing venue in Kenora, Ont.

Beechinor, a multi-sport athlete who only began her rowing career this spring, found out two weeks ago she had earned a spot on the provincial team as an injury replacement.

"I just started this year, but it’s coming really fast and playing different sports I guess, gives you a lot of strength," said Beechinor, who will be entering Grade 10 at St. Mary’s Academy this fall. "My best friend was rowing and she said, ‘Julia, do you want to come out with me.’ I said, ‘Sure, why not.’

Beechinor’s friend, Katie Sierhuis, and Katie’s brother Riley Sierhuis, a member of the Manitoba men’s fours squad, are regulars at Winnipeg Rowing Club workouts.

"I don’t want to get my hopes up but I really want for our team to do really well and have a good time, and I really want the experience to help me move forward and compete in different events," said Beechinor.

That attitude is music to the ears of Manitoba head coach Janine Stephens, who retired from the sport after winning an Olympics silver medal with Canada’s women’s eights team in 2012. She became the provincial head coach in May.

"She showed up at the club and learned rowing relatively fast," said Stephens of Beechinor. "And then, just for her, she was wanting to show up every day and do more workouts and do more training, and asked if she could come on the water when I was with the rest of them.

"For them, it’s a cool opportunity to go through it and they’ve been put through some training that they weren’t necessarily used to. It’s a big change for them, but they’re doing well so far."

Stephens represented Canada at both the 2008 Bejing and 2012 London Olympics, but still considers her Canada Games experience in 2001 to be a career highlight.

"For me, my Canada Games (in London, Ont.) experience was so great," said Stephens. "We just had such a fun journey training for the Canada Games. To be able to bring that back, I hope they can enjoy the experience and like being part of Team Manitoba, and having Emma being named flag-bearer today is just exciting for the rowers."

Another young athlete making his debut at the Canada Games is 14-year-old tennis player Stefan Barre of Winnipeg. The provincial team has eight members and three alternates and is likely one of the youngest squads in the competition. Thirteen-year-old Elinor Shpunt, Reece Carter, 12, and Barre are young enough to be eligible for the 2021 Games in Ontario.

"It’s something I’ve been preparing for a long time — since I was young, I’ve been looking for the opportunity to play at the Canada Games," said Barre, who is entering Grade 9 at Glenlawn Collegiate in fall. "It’s exciting.

"We’re not expecting too much because we’re a super-young team this year, so we’re going to try our best and be a pain in the butt for other teams."

For provincial tennis team manager Nelly Dvornicka, the youthful makeup of her squad is all part of trying to grow the number of people playing as well as the opportunity to play the sport in Manitoba.

"We don’t have quite enough indoor facilities to practise in during the winter and, given the fact we have winter for six months, we really do need more than that," said Dvornicka, who will work in tandem with head coach Jared Connell at the Games. "It’s coming, slowly, but it’s coming to Manitoba."

Exposure to high-level competition should speed the development of players such as Barre.

"I expect them to gain as much experience from this as possible," said Dvornicka. "Good, bad, take it all with them and the ones who will be returning for the next Games will lead the new generation coming in. You could have up to three (players) coming back."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Read more by Mike Sawatzky .

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