Joseph Spriet has devoted a good chunk of the past five years to ensuring the smooth running of the Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island.
But the 2009 Games president hopes that when the torch has been extinguished after two weeks of competition and the athletes have gone, the legacy from Canada’s largest multi-sport event will linger on the Maritime island for many more years to come.
“There’s the people legacy of having 6,000 volunteers able to upgrade their skills,” Spriet said in a recent interview.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of new facilities, not the least of which is a new (track and field) facility which is our crown jewel of the Games here. And we’re hoping to have a financial legacy for the youth of P.E.I. going forward that would be put to a trust fund for years to come.”
Some 4,400 athletes, coaches and officials will participate in 18 sports at the Games, which open Saturday in Summerside, the host of Week 1 events. Week 2 moves to Charlottetown, where the Games close Aug. 29.
The Games are a culmination of thousands of days of planning since P.E.I. won the right to host the event, and now with little left to do but sweep off the welcome mat, Spriet said he feels a huge sense of accomplishment.
“Since 2004, it’s been 1,925 days or 1,926 days of planning,” Spriet said. “I’m so proud of what we have accomplished so far, we think we’re really ready — Murphy’s Law will have something to say about how it all unfolds.
“It’s just an awful lot of pride to see all these folks who worked so hard for so many days to get this thing ready to go and we feel like we’re in the starting blocks.”
The 2009 Games are costing $33 million, and Spriet said they’ll be on budget. Some $7 million came from the private sector, and the Games president said coming up with that amount in the current economy wasn’t easy.
“That was a huge challenge,” he said.
While he can’t yet provide financial figures, Spriet said there will be a legacy fund to help future P.E.I. athletes and maintain facilities, including the $6.8 million UPEI Alumni Canada Games Place — the track and field stadium in Charlottetown.
The venues are spread out in communities across the province, from Alberton in the west, one of the softball sites, to Souris, nearly 220 kilometres to the east, which will host some of the soccer games.
“It’s a province-wide Games, unlike a city where the venues are very close,” Spriet said. “We cover in Week 1 half the island, and in Week 2 the other half, so we’re a whole island of villages and communities that are participating in this event.”
Canada, said Spriet, is one of only a handful of countries that hosts a multi-sports event such as the Canada Games that focuses on up-and-coming athletes.
“They’re not the Olympics, but they’re the next thing to the Olympics,” Spriet said.
“A lot of Olympic participants are Canada Games alumni. They experience first-hand what it means to live for a week in the athletes village. They get to march in the opening ceremonies, just like the Olympic we have a cauldron, we have a flame, we have the athletes that march in. . . you can imagine for 17, 18-year-olds what that would mean.”
The Games have been a stepping stone for countless Olympic and professional athletes to bigger and better things. NBA star Steve Nash played on B.C.’s basketball team at the 1993 Games.
Hayley Wickenheiser scored the goal that clinched gold for Alberta at the ’91 Games when she was 12 years old.
Two-time Olympic champion Catriona Le May Doan competed in speedskating in ’83 and ’87 and track and field in ’93. Lennox Lewis boxed in the ’83 Games, a year before his first of two Olympic Games appearances. He won gold for Canada at the ’88 Olympics.
Former CFL veteran kicker Lui Passaglia played on B.C.’s soccer team in ’73, while hockey star Sidney Crosby played for Nova Scotia in 2003.
While golf makes its Canada Games debut in P.E.I., PGA Tour player Ian Leggatt is a Games alumnus — he competed in speedskating in 1983.
Triathlon is also set to make its Games debut, while rugby could make its final appearance — it’s not on the program for the 2013 Games.
Perennial Summer Games powerhouse Ontario should be the team to beat once again in P.E.I., with Quebec and B.C. putting up the biggest challenge. Ontario captured 158 medals — 63 gold, 45 silver and 50 bronze — to top the medal table at the 2005 Games in Regina. Quebec was second with 135 (50, 42, 43), followed by B.C. with 119 (42, 44, 33).
The Canada Games is held every two years alternating with summer and winter Games. The last winter Games were held in Whitehorse in 2007.
Quebec City hosted the first Canada Winter Games in 1967 as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations. The first summer version was held two years later in Halifax. Every province has hosted the Games at least once.