Imagine you’re a young athlete given a chance to represent your peers, surrounded by some of the best athletes in the country all selected for the same purpose. In your short yet burgeoning career, this is perhaps the brightest spotlight you’ve experienced and one that could vault you into being recognized as one of Canada’s most promising talents. For over 5,000 athletes, that became a reality this August as the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games were finally held after a year-long delay.
The Niagara 2022 Summer Games wrapped up earlier this month, marking the 55th year of the Canada Games. For those who don’t know, the games are a collection of athletic events commonly found in large-scale international events like the Olympic Games and the World Athletic Championships. Much like the Olympics, the Canada Games take place every two years alternating between the Summer Games and Winter Games.
The goal of the Canada Games is to foster the young athletic talent in Canada to one day be able to represent the country on the international stage. There are unique age limits for each event with the majority of athletes being under 25, aside from those competing in para sports or the Special Olympics. For many, they see these games as a great opportunity for athletes to adjust to higher levels of competition in the future.
“It’s really nice to have [the games] because I feel like there is a big step from the U20 team to seniors, so it’s that step in between that helps athletes to get to the next level,” explained gold medal winner and new Canada Games record holder in the 3000m steeplechase Catherine Beuchemin.
The game’s list of incredible alumni certainly indicates how the games serve as a launching pad for athletic careers. The likes of NBA Hall-of-Famer Steve Nash, Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard, and six-time Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse are all alumni of the games.
For many of the athletes competing at the games, they expressed their desire to compete at the next level and how these games can serve as a motivator and catalyst for those opportunities moving forward.
“Remembering these games will definitely give me a little more confidence heading into upcoming races like nationals and a more positive mindset now that I have this [momentum] to jump off from,” stated multiple canoe kayak gold medal winner Craig Johnson and echoed by partner Alex Eisener-Mallet.
It’s this kind of confidence that Team Canada wants to build at a young age as they strive to make improvements to their senior team. We can see the results of youth development already with Team Canada ranking 11th at Tokyo 2020, winning a total of 24 medals, the most at a Summer Olympic Games aside from the 1984 Los Angeles Games which saw mass boycotts from some powerhouse teams like Russia.
However, it’s important to remember that while it’s easy to get wrapped up in strict results and winning at the games, it’s by no means what the Canada Games are all about. The relationships and community building through the games are just as impactful as any victory. Olivia Tymkiw captain of British Columbia’s female volleyball team described one of these impactful moments.
“There was an athlete from the men’s lacrosse team that wasn’t able to come here because he has leukaemia. But I think it was really cool we were all able to create a video for him,” she explained.
It’s moments like these that highlight what the games do in uniting the athletic community. A common activity amongst the volunteers and athletes at the games is the “unofficial sport” of pin trading to further create a sense of bonding across a nation.
And for the next generation who will compete at the games in 2025 in St. Johns, Newfoundland, a similar word of advice was echoed amongst athletes: to remember why we compete and enjoy the process.