The Vancouver Winter Olympic Games countdown has officially begun.
Never mind the celebratory parade called the torch run that is slowly gaining momentum as it plows through a Canadian winter toward the West Coast.
Never mind the years of campaigning, political nudging, planning and work that has gone into first winning the right to host the games, then putting the pieces together.
Never mind the hundreds of millions of dollars raised and spent in and around Vancouver, including on contentious housing, highway and other transportation projects.
Never mind the endless teasers and national ego pleasers trotted across our TV screens for months by the host broadcasters.
When Steve Yzerman and his cadre of Team Canada hockey advisors announced the 2010 men’s Olympic roster last week, Canadians finally became fully engaged.
The Games are slightly more than a month away, and for many Canadians, the wait will be excruciating — because now, finally, we can put faces to our national hopes. The various winter sports organizations are putting the finishing touches on the lists of athletes who will represent us and seek — in any sport — Canada’s first gold medal won on home soil.
No region of the country will be better represented than Central Alberta.
Jeremy Wotherspoon will skate for Canada, at a fourth and final Games. That richly deserved honour for the Red Deer speedskater comes as the result of Wotherspoon winning national 500-metre and 1,000-metre trials. After a year way from the sport, the celebrated world champion has returned with improved health and renewed commitment.
Mellisa Hollingsworth of Eckville is a World Cup overall title holder in skeleton who won bronze at the Torino Olympics. Her results this season show she is similarly committed to success.
Red Deer’s Regan Lauscher will compete in her third Olympics in February. The singles luge competitor is the most accomplished Canadian ever in her discipline, with a silver World Cup medal to her credit. She finished 10th at the Torino Olympics.
Lyndon Rush of Sylvan Lake is part of a four-man bobsleigh team that has made inroads on the World Cup circuit this season. Rush calls it a “breakthrough” season — and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Red Deer’s Drew Goldsack has remarkably overcome ankle surgery to return to national prominence in cross-country skiing. Vancouver will be his second Olympic Games. “This has gone full circle for me and it is absolutely awesome,” said Goldsack last month after winning an Olympic Trials race in Canmore.
Zina Kocher returns to the Olympics for a second time in biathlon. She has a bronze medal in World Cup competition to her credit — the first Canadian biathlete to win a medal in more than a decade. And Red Deer’s 2008 female athlete of the year has gradually improved her international ranking since the Torino Games.
At least one other Central Alberta, speedskater Steven Elm, can still qualify for the games.
He won a silver medal in team pursuit at the 2006 Games.
And on the horizon, a whole new crop of Central Alberta athletes are looking to 2014 and beyond, including freestyle skier Jonathon Vellner and snowboard competitor Matt Hayward.
The legacy created by generations of winter athletes in Central Alberta, from the late speedskater Kevin Sirois (Sapporo, 1972) to freestyle skiing aerialist Deidra Dionne (bronze in Salt Lake in 2002) has had a powerful impact on the young people of this region.
As we count down the days to the Feb. 12 opening ceremonies in Vancouver, we can look forward to even greater success in the future.
And from that, yet another generation of young local athletes will be inspired to seek glory in 2014 and beyond.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.