It may have come a year late, but the wait has only ratcheted up the excitement for the province’s premier sporting event.
The 2023 B.C. Winter Games in Greater Vernon are officially underway with the opening ceremony for the games taking place at Kal Tire Place Thursday night, March 23.
The stadium was packed with athletes, coaches and officials on the floor, as well as hundreds of spectators in the stands.
Jamie Tawil from Global News Okanagan was the emcee for the event. Tawil introduced the different zones competing in the games, saving the home zone, Thompson-Okanagan, for last.
“These games are about the development of young athletes from across the province. For many of you, this is the first multi-sport games that you have attended and it could be the first step on the ladder to higher and higher achievement,” Tawil said.
The ceremony featured a number of speakers who encouraged the athletes, while giving thanks to the more than 1,500 volunteers who are making the games possible.
Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming appealed to the athletes to remember that the most important aspect of the games is having fun.
“Come and play, and make sure you have fun with each other. Everything else is second,” Cumming said.
Nicky Dunlop, president of the Greater Vernon Winter Games, thanked Syilx artist and Okanagan Indian Band member David Wilson for designing 15 “incredibly beautiful” pictographs, one for each sport in the games.
“I can’t believe we’re finally here. It’s been an immense amount of work over the last few years, by over 1,500 volunteers to get us here. I am so grateful to be part of such a dedicated and phenomenal team,” Dunlop said.
Lana Popham, B.C.’s Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, confided to the audience that she qualified for the B.C. Winter Games as an alpine skiing athlete in 1985, but fell and broke her arm a week before the games started and was unable to compete.
“I’ve been waiting 38 years to get to the B.C. Winter Games,” she exclaimed.
“As a former athlete, I know how important these games are, and I know how important sports are. Sport builds confidence, it builds connection, and it builds communities. It brings people together and inspires everyone around us to participate and play,” Popham added.
Athlete ambassador Mike Shaw, who hails from Vernon, recounted his harrowing experience of injuring his spine while freestyle skiing, saying the doctors told him he would never walk again. Just by pacing around the stage — to say nothing of his empassioned speech — he served as an example of what can be accomplished by hard work, focus and determination. He led the athletes and everyone in attendance through a meditative exercise focused on gratitude.
At the close of the ceremony, three athletes formed a relay to light the Winter Games torch to officially ring in the games. First up was Kelowna judo athlete Jorrdyn McRoy, who passed the flame to Vernon Ski Club athlete Olivia Lahey, who in turn sent the flame to biathlete Sierra Munroe who lit the ceremonial torch in front of the main stage.
Mitchell Robertson, a green belt at the Lake Country Judo Club, opened the ceremony by reading the Athlete’s Oath, while Okanagan Indian Band councillor Allen Louis led the audience through a prayer.
Interspersed between the speeches were performances by Accents Dance Studio Vernon dance crews, as well as the Birch Creek Singers performing the Okanagan Welcome Song and Travel Song.
Athletes from around the province are competing this weekend in 15 sports: alpine skiing, archery, artistic gymnasstics, badminton, biathlon, cross-country skiing, para cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, judo, karate, rhythmic gymnastics, ringette, snowboarding and wheelchair basketball.
Over 900 athletes from around the province will compete from Friday to Sunday.
The event was postponed in 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and flooding that was affecting the province last year.