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Canadian athletes gain inspiration from Sochi summit

VANCOUVER — Melissa Hollingsworth thought she could never beat the feeling she had while attending her first Canadian Olympic athletes summit in 2005.

But she was wrong.

The 33-year-old skeleton racer from Eckville was among many who were inspired by an athletes’ summit that included interviews with media on Monday and inspirational speeches and videos from past Olympians and team-building sessions on the weekend.

Top athletes in winter sports ranging from curling to ski jumping are attending the event, held at a downtown Vancouver hotel, which began Friday and will conclude Tuesday.

“This weekend was really special, because I feel the goosebumps,” said Hollingsworth, who is preparing for a berth in her third Olympics. “I’m inspired, and that’s something that’s really hard to find this late in the game.”

Many athletes pointed to a session with retired speedskater and cyclist Clara Hughes as particularly inspiring, while former triathlete Simon Whitfield and women’s soccer coach John Herdman were also singled out.

“I really thought that the first one that I attended, I couldn’t ever beat that, because I was starstuck,” said Hollingsworth.

In the case of athletes who compete individually or in pairs, no one has officially qualified for the Games, but many have completed the bulk of results needed heading into their 2013-14 seasons.

Athletes believe the summit will help them feel comfortable when they are so far from home Sochi.

“I honestly spent the basis of the weekend just trying not to cry the whole weekend, like, trying not to cry,” said skelton racer Sarah Reid of Calgary, who only needs to finish 12th or better in a World Cup in 2013-14 to qualify for her first Games.

“All the videos, everything, the talks, were just so inspiring and exciting.”

The summit, she added, also helped athletes realize the magnitude of representing their country at the Sochi Games.

“We all have a chance to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We all have a chance to be Canada, and I think that is really something that I’ve taken away from this weekend,” said Reid.

Bobsledder Kaillie Humphries of Calgary, who will try to defend her 2010 Olympic gold medal, recalled the first athletes summit she attended prior to the Vancouver Games. Humphries gained inspiration from Hughes, retired rower Cindy Klassen and former rower Marnie McBean and still goes to them for guidance and inspiration.

“These are other people that share the same passion, drive and dedication, and share that same commitment as you do,” said Humphries of other athletes attending this year’s summit. “And to be able to talk with them, in a less business-oriented sense and a lot more of a casual sense, I can learn from each and every one of the athletes here and get to know their stories.

“When you watch them on TV, it’s very different. But when you actually get to see their personalities come out and learn and grow with them and, hopefully, I can offer some advice.”

The summit will also help athletes get to the Games, grow their success and feel as prepared as possible, she added.

Bobsledder Jesse Lumsden, a former CFL star who has had to adjust to the nuances of bobsleigh and football, also found inspiration from his first pre-Olympic sessions with athletes from across the various winter sports.

He believes the event will help athletes as they prepare within their chosen sports and also bolster Canada’s overall Olympic hopes.

“Team Canada is going to Sochi,” said Lumsden. “Within that, you see bobsleigh, alpine, figure skating, all that. But we are Team Canada. We are working together as a goal. We are working together as a group to achieve a goal that we achieved in Vancouver, and that’s to win the most gold medals out of any nation.”

Montreal’s Alex Bilodeau, who won a freestyle skiing gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, said he was inspired by the stories of Hughes; Whitfield and assistant chef de mission Jean-Luc Brassard, a former freestylist who competed in three Olympics and won a gold medal at the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

“I know very well (Brassard), but I guess I know him better now,” said Bilodeau, who is preparing for his third Olympics.



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