With no less than 27 different sports on the docket, the 2020 Ontario Winter Games in Orillia and area covered a wide swath of the winter athletic activities spectrum.
Finding local participation in some endeavours was fruitless - the likes of fencing, field hockey and wushu (you will have to look that one up on your own!) come quickly to mind - but much like the Olympics, the Ontario Games certainly helps to shine a light on some of the slightly less common sports that are not necessarily top of mind for the average reader.
Badminton, I would think, is just such a sport.
Here was local coach Jim Duff, leading a 12-player northern Ontario contingent into action at Georgian College, a grouping that included a quartet of Sudbury racqueteers. "My dad (Robert) has always coached for his high school, and in grade eight, I started coming out once a week, just to see if I would like it," said College Notre-Dame senior and Team North member Karine Boucher, who celebrated her 18th birthday on Monday.
"I did dance for ten years, so I didn't really have time for badminton. In grade nine, I stopped dancing and started doing all of the school sports, and that's when I really started to get more involved in badminton."
"I like the strategic part of the sport, how it's not just force and strength," Boucher continued. "Being able to think and play, at the same time, is what I prefer. It's not just about smashing everything. It's a lot about the bird placement."
Fortunately, it wasn't as though the years of experience on the dance floor would be wasted, as Boucher threw herself head-first into her new passion. "Some things, like balance and having the ability to flow across the court instead of being stiff, are things that help me in badminton," she said.
"I am just used to moving quickly and shuffling, things that you can use in badminton."
Teammate and grade nine Lockerby Composite freshman Gillian Obradovich may not tap into a formative dancing background, which is fine, since she has been a familiar face on the badminton court for quite some time now. That said, there is a novelty to her play, these days, given the years of practice.
"My mental game has changed a lot," said Obradovich. "You learn how to remain calm, during the game, and you learn where to put the bird, and not just hitting it and hitting it, but making smart decisions."
Like Boucher, the newcomer to secondary school athletics, with her heart set on achieving a berth at OFSAA, at some point in time, also favours the mixed doubles game to either singles play, or women's pairs. "I have a lot more finesse than power, and that's what it is in mixed," said Obradovich.
"Singles is a lot more of a mental game, and I'm not super great at that. When you have a partner on the court, it's much easier to know that someone has got your back." Rounding out the Sudbury badminton crew were Dominik Brunette-Royer and Cierra St Germain, as Team NOBA posted a preliminary round record of 2-4, before dropping a 4-3 decision to the Georgian Bay District in their final match on Sunday.
In terms of some medal performances, little surprise that the provincial curling rivalry between Team Croisier (Bella Croisier, Lauren Rajala, Emilie Lovitt, Piper Croisier) and the Emily Deschenes rink from Ottawa was renewed over the weekend. Very familiar foes, the talented squads met again in the OWG gold medal affair, with the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club quartet settling for silver, edged 4-3 in the final.
Local bowlers also excelled in Orillia, as the Garson Bowl ladies team of Chantal Tourigny, Tessa Cain, Isabelle Rodrigue, Valerie Quackenbush and Andrea Champagne managed to top the podium, beating Northern Ontario #2 (North Bay) 971-954 in the final. On an individual level, Isabelle Rodrigue topped all of the remaining competitors in average pinfall, posting an impressive total of 235.5 and earning gold status on the all-star team.
While the Northern Ontario #2 men's team fell short of qualifying for the playoffs, Kyle Beaulieu from Whitewater Lanes (Azilda) did earn a spot on the all-star team, averaging 240.0 over the course of the competition.
Wrestling in the men's 86 kg weight class, Daniel Poitras-Paulin of Lasalle returned home with a silver medal, finishing behind only Rezz Khatib Shahidi representing South-Western Ontario.
The largest local team at the 2020 Games would come courtesy of the Sudbury Synchro Swim Club, taking part in the newly re-named "Artistic Swimming" event. The 11-12 year old team of Sophie Boucher, Julianne Crittenden, Sarah Crittenden, Eva Jessup, Isabella MacIsaac, Lilliana MacIsaac, Claire Sedgwick and Rachelle Prevost (coaches Allison Merla and Stacie Kohan), would be joined by the 13-15 year old squad of Amy Lacelle, Madison Hood, Heidi Fink, Emilie Ladouceur, Lana Squires, Amy Seguin and Chloe Cholette (coach Courtney Stasiuk) at the pool.
Sudbury highlights included podium placements in both the solo (Amy Lacelle - 5th) and figures (Sarah Crittenden - 6th) events, with the latter also teaming up with her sister (Julianne) for a 5th place ribbon in duets, while the 11-12 team finished fourth, overall.
Carrying local hopes in the biathlon, Henri Lefebvre (Walden Cross Country) placed fourth (5.6 km pursuit) and 5th (2.75 km super sprint), results that were matched, in reverse order, by teammate Rochelle Lariviere.
Though the Northeast AAA ringette team that included Jessica Willis, Avery Blanchard, Kylee Lapalme, Amanda Mayer, Erika Poirier, Zoey Landry, assistant coaches Luc Delarosbil and Jocelyne Leclair, and manager Paula Mayer did not manage to hit the win column in their five outings, there were some individual stats of note.
Poirier finished tied for second in team scoring (2G-2A), with Landry just one point back and Blanchard also the author of a pair of tallies. Likewise, it was more about the memories for the local squash delegation of Renee Proulx, Robert de la Riva, Madelyn Petherick, Clark MacIntyre, Paige Dawson, coach Charles de la Riva Jr and team manager Sue de la Riva.
Finally, the local nordic and para-nordic ski folks were out in full force, as well, with Sami Chartrand, Kai Nener, Kaeden Ward, Finlay Cuza, Maggie Parks, Maxine Wiss, Ava Hodgins, Brandon Radey and Patrick Wiss representing Walden Cross Country, while Michael Butcher, David Barber, James Butcher, Audreanne Soenens, Logan Lariviere, Brittney Baker and guide Perry Sakki donned the Laurentian Nordic colours.
Mounting the podium, on the weekend, were Patrick Wiss (silver - 1.1 free sprint) and James Butcher (silver - para - 2 kms), while another success story was taking place one province to the east. Twelve year-old Callum Wiss celebrated his birthday in style this past weekend (technically, his birthday is on March 4th), capturing top spot in the 2008 age group at the Championats Jeunesse in Quebec.
Skiing in a province which traditionally excels in the sport, Wiss would add to his already impressive season, one in which he earned silver at recent O-Cup races, despite competing up an age bracket or two. Still, this most recent event, one at which he was hosted by Chelsea Nordiq, was even more special in his eyes.
"It's a bit more competitive, and I got know a lot more of the kids there," said the grade six student at Ecole Helene-Gravel. "They have a lot more younger racers, and they were really friendly. They had a banquet every night, and a show, which was a lot of fun."
The 2020 Ontario Summer Games are set to take place in London, running from July 30th to August 2nd.