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Summer games sailors, volunteers impressive

As impressed as David Sprague, sport lead for sailing at the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, was with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club’s facilities, he was even more so by the volunteers and the competitors.

As impressed as David Sprague, sport lead for sailing at the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, was with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club’s facilities, he was even more so by the volunteers and the competitors. 

Sprague, who sailed for Manitoba at the inaugural 1969 Canada Summer Games in Nova Scotia, said the members of the local club, the Dalhousie Yacht Club of St. Catharines and the non-sailor volunteers involved went above and beyond in their host duties. 

“They did a fantastic job,” said the chief technical officer for five Pan Am Games and race officer at the Beijing Olympics and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. “I have not seen the pulling together of people like this anywhere else. These people put their hearts into it.”

As with any sailing regatta the weather was a factor last week during the Games. Competitors patiently awaited proper racing conditions on three of the five days of the regatta. 

“It’s a normal day at the office,” Sprague told The Local. “The challenge that you get is you constantly deal with the heat, no wind on shore, the forecasts. When you look at the forecasts, you have to remember you’re at a new venue you don’t know. We had winds between four to six knots, and I don’t think I have ever done a four- to five-day regatta without at least one 10 to 15 knot day.”

Those delays and general conditions forced organizers to make changes on the go. The usual course includes two upwind and two downwind lengths followed by a short hitch to the finish. On some of last week’s races sailors did not have the chance to complete a full course. 

“It didn’t change the end results significantly,” Sprague explained, “but it makes for a tactically and strategically different race. Sailing is different from other sports, as it is designed to get ‘x’ number of faces over ‘x’ number of conditions to get the best overall individual. The skill sets have to be well-rounded.”

On Friday, the 10 a.m. start time was repeatedly pushed back. Competitors, who were on site preparing their vessels at least an hour prior, were milling about, socializing, trading provincial pins, and signing banners that would be carried in Sunday’s closing ceremony. Some were helping their teammates cool down with squirt guns. 

It didn’t seem to bother the competitors. Haley Poirier of Team Alberta was just thrilled to be there with the other sailors. The 20-year-old Dalhousie University student took it all in stride, even as the horn blew and the AP flag on shore was raised, signalling at least a three-hour delay. 

“I try to keep a positive spirit, to keep myself going,” Poirier smiled. “I can get distracted and bored, so you have to keep yourself pumped for when you finally get on the water. I’m making so many new friends. I’ve seen some of them at other events, but here we’re really having a lot of fun together.”

With a long wait confirmed, the tents cleared almost completely of competitors and coaches, who stretched their legs for a walk through town on the hot morning. Joan and Morris Markentin, parents of Team Saskatchewan’s Erika and Elisa, weren’t too upset with the wait. The couple, who were staying in a bed and breakfast in town, were looking forward to sampling some ice cream on Queen Street.

Further delays ensued, and conditions were not favourable for racing until nearly 3:30 p.m. 

“We actually had the best sail of the regatta that afternoon,” claimed Sprague. “We ended up getting a reasonable wind that died. We ended up shortening the last race for one of the fleets just two lengths before they would have normally finished.”

With all those delays, Sprague had a chance to see how the athletes comported themselves on shore. 

“They were great kids,” Sprague said. “The attitude, the fortitude, especially with the pairs. I don’t think I saw a single grumpy competitor for the whole week. It really was a great group to run races for.”

“I was really impressed,” he continued, “with the size and the quality of the teams. And the coaches were excellent. We had some technical issues during the competition, and they were very reasonable and accommodating on all of them.”

When all was said and done, Ontario and Nova Scotia led the way with four medals each. 

Toronto’s Siobhan MacDonald followed up a bronze from a previous Canada Summer Games with a gold medal finish in the 2.4 metre parasailing event, while Ford Amery and Tom Desroches paired up for silver in the male double-handed 29er race. Bronze medals were also earned for the team in both male and female single laser events. 

British Columbia earned three gold medals at the regatta, taking both male and female double-handed 29er, as well as the female single laser races. 

Saskatchewan earned a silver and bronze, both in parasailing, while Alberta’s James Fair, 18,  took gold in the male single-handed laser competition, and Bianca MacHabée and Julia Capolicchio captured Team Quebec’s sole sailing bronze medal in the female double-handed 29er.