Eckville shows its pride

To the rambunctious crowd of around 1,000 that turned out in Eckville on Monday to cheer for one of Central Alberta’s Olympic heroes — Mellisa Hollingsworth.

To the rambunctious crowd of around 1,000 that turned out in Eckville on Monday to cheer for one of Central Alberta’s Olympic heroes — Mellisa Hollingsworth.

Members of the crowd, composed mainly of young people, were dressed in red T-shirts, hoodies and mitts, carrying signs Go Mellisa go! and Rock On Mellisa.

Hollingsworth, an Olympic skeleton bronze medalist in 2006 who will be competing in February 2010’s Vancouver Winter Olympics, grew up on a ranch just outside Eckville.

Make no mistake about it. That community, and the rest of Central Alberta, is solidly behind this athlete in her drive to be the best.

Monday’s gathering was proof. The occasion was a television shoot by CTV honouring Hollingsworth, to be featured during the kickoff of the first day of the Olympics.

Josh Shiaman, senior field producer for CTV, in his wildest dreams had not anticipated the large crowd.

“I asked for 50 extras to come on the street and we’re just going to recreate a rally for (Mellisa), and instead of 50 we got about a thousand people . . .” he said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. The support that everyone has shown is simply stunning.”

It was a touching scene pumped with enthusiasm. People waved Canadian flags, cheered and chanted, “Go Mellisa go.”

School students, very much inspired by the accomplishments of this athlete, were elated.

Hollingsworth doesn’t forget her roots and has returned to the local schools she attended as a child to show students her 2006 medal.

Central Albertans can take great pride in the endless support they have shown our local champions in past years. When it comes to a cheering crowd, they occupy the front-row seats and have little doubt in their minds that those athletes they’re rooting for are among the best in the world and that those athletes won’t let the hometown crowd down —win, or lose.

And speaking of a superb athlete who has done the area proud, to Red Deer’s Olympic gold medal champion skater Jamie Salé, who, with partner Craig Simpson, claimed gold on the CBC reality series Battle of the Blades in Toronto on Monday.

A bouquet also to Simpson, a two-time Stanley Cup winner who put his heart and soul, along with Salé, into this unique series that captured the attention of viewers across Canada.

When the idea was first hatched to pair up former champion figure skaters with retired hockey players for a weekly skating competition, there was skepticism.

But the bold venture turned into a smash TV hit for CBC. Kudos for the broadcasting corporation.

Strong ratings throughout its seven-week run have producers pondering the possibility of franchising the series to other countries, and perhaps a second season.

Show co-host Kurt Browning, another legendary figure skating gold medalist from Central Alberta, says the show has potential for another season.

But Browning would like to see the challenges get even harder on the retired hockey players by requiring individual skating.

(Awwww, come on now, Kurt. That would take the edge off the fun. The whole idea of this production is to see the pairs skating.)

Salé and Simpson were fan favourites from the very beginning of the competition. Simpson earned special praise for being the only male to make a waltz jump.

The victory for this pair won a $100,000 donation in their name to the Northern Alberta Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre Society.

What a fantastic finish, worthy of an applause from all the fans. And a nod to the CBC for an idea that brought Canadians together and helped a great charitable cause.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

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