Dara’s gold inspires Ontario Winter Games athletes to be their best
HUNTSVILLE — Dara Howell’s gold medal dangling around her neck was like a carrot on a stick for some Ontario Winter Games athletes.
The Holy Grail, the pot of gold at the end of the months — even years — of training and competing rainbow.
Friday night’s huge welcome home for Huntsville’s golden girl of the snowboard, was witnessed by a bunch of kids who just a few years ago dared dream like Dara.
Like the road from Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Hill to Sochi, Hwy. 11 to Huntsville for these game youngsters is their golden opportunity.
And the morning after seeing, even touching – and photographing – gold at RiverMillPark it was back on the court, in the pool and on the ice to compete at their highest level, against their best peers in their age group.
The Ontario Winter Games are their Olympic moments.
And for athletes like Alex Moran, a Hamilton table tennis player, the OWGs are vital to his development.
They’re not new — he plays many of them during the year.
He says after the top 8 seeded players, they’re quite a drop off in talent and competition.
But it’s all about keeping sharp. Keeping his eye on the ball and his legs always moving and his shoulders and wrists working top spins, bottom spins, back spins and smashes.
For a 16-year-old who’s recovering from rotator cuff surgery, he’s doing just fine, thank you.
He’s going to the world men’s championships to represent Canada for the first time, where he’ll be the youngest players to wear the red and white.
Not bad for a guy who’s only had a paddle in his hands for five years and won the right to go to Tokyo at a qualifying tournament.
He’s ranked sixth in Canada under 18 and fifth in Ontario U18.
But Saturday, he was on a three-man team with Philip Ilijeski of Toronto and James Yu, of Mississauga.
They dominated the men’s division, winning relatively easily in games at St. Dominic’s School in Bracebridge.
He was one of 53 players on 23 teams, pointed out Attila Mosonyi, president of the Ontario Table Tennis Association, as he oversaw the 10 tables in play.
And while there were no local players — most of them were from the GTA, hotbed of table tennis (“not ping pong”) — as legacy of these OWGs, Muskoka organizers bought eight professional tables to augment the two-day tournament. Four of the tables will be in Huntsville and four at the YMCA in Gravenhurst to encourage development of young players, said volunteer Rick Maloney.
At the Bracebridge Sportsplex, synchro team swimmers were going through the land portion of the competition.
Who knew? That teams first compete in track suits, going through their routines on stage before stripping down to their swim suits and dipping their manicured toes and gelled hair into the pool.
Soloists and duos were the first to compete in real water Saturday. The teams follow them into the pool Sunday to show that their stage presence wasn’t an optical illusion and that they can indeed keep their heads — and feet above water.
Those competitions and finals go all day Sunday.
Inside the gym at the Bracebridge Muskoka Lakes Secondary School where a half dozen badminton courts were in play, the young Georgian Bay Badminton Club team members were in tough against the powerhouse teams from Toronto and Ottawa among others.
Doubles players Dorothy Duck and Katie Harris played a good game, but lost their round-robin game.
Play continues Sunday.
In Huntsville the speed skaters heated up the Summit Centre with their version of Sochi — at least it was on an Olympic size ice.
The long-bladed skaters — wearing their cool goggles and numbered egghead helmets — circled the ice in laps of various lengths between the sound of the gun and bell sounding the final lap.
Starting out in slow motion — four or five at a time in each heat — they cruise into draft position as if out for a Sunday skate.
But with each lap gaining speed, they start cutting corners and jockeying for position until the final bell lap when it’s all out speed and war on the corners.
And it’s a good thing the corners are padded, because missing a corner and hitting the boards isn’t easy unless their padded — as they were.
Unlike in Gravenhurst, where one sledge hockey player went through the boards foot-first Friday morning — delaying play in the first game after the opening ceremonial puck drop by Mayor Paisley Donaldson.
The Ontario Winter Games wrap up competitions Sunday.
Check out these future Olympians and Paralympians at the Games sites across Muskoka.
The public is welcome at the 27 event sites where the 2,100 athletes are going for the gold.
For a schedule of events and times, go to www.ontariowintergames.ca
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