PEI welcomes athletes traveling to the 2023 Canada Winter Games

Team BC athletes were the first to arrive at the Charlottetown airport on Friday.  (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - photo credit)

Team BC athletes were the first to arrive at the Charlottetown airport on Friday. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC – photo credit)

Athletes from across the country arrived in Charlottetown on Friday, a day before the 2023 Canadian Winter Games were scheduled to kick off.

A total of 13 charter flights were scheduled to land at the city’s airport on Friday, bringing 1,500 athletes and coaches to the island for the first of two weeks of competition. Only three failed to make it due to a winter storm system accompanied by freezing rain.

Team BC hit the tarmac first on Friday morning. Lauren Cochrane, a curler on the team, says she got very little sleep on the long flight from Vancouver.

“When we got here, everyone was so welcoming and said ‘Welcome to PEI’ as soon as we walked through the doors, so it was really great,” she said.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Jeffer Ward and Elise Froese are on Team BC’s wheelchair basketball team. They said they trained several times a week to prepare for the games.

“This is my first time so I’ve practiced a lot with my coaches to get to this point so I’m excited to be able to compete again,” said Ward.

“I think we have a good chance of winning the gold medal,” said Froese. “I’m really looking forward to this game and I really hope we can do it.”

In all, PEI welcomes more than 3,600 young athletes, coaches and managers from across the country to compete in over 20 sports and 150 events.

Final preparations

The games officially begin Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. with the Opening Ceremony at the Eastlink Center in Charlottetown.

Musicians, performers and technical staff spent most of Friday rehearsing for the show.

And with just over 24 hours to go before kick-off, CEO Brian McFeely said it’s all coming down to the next two weeks. After more than five years of planning – much of it in the midst of a pandemic – he said it was time to show the country true island hospitality.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

“We are ready,” he said.

“[It’s] just so enjoyable. It’s just going to be an exciting few weeks with these 5,000 volunteers coming to support the Games and to welcome Canada.”

Former athletes honored

But before Saturday’s games begin, four former athletes should be welcomed to the Canada Games Hall of Honor on Friday night.

Among them was the top doctor at the PEI, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison.

Morrison represented PEI on the field hockey team in 1989 and again as team manager at the 1993 games.

“It was a very special experience for me at the time to go to Saskatoon and then Kamloops and wear the PEI colors and we were so excited and so proud,” she said.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Morrison said while she doesn’t remember the outcome of the games she played in, the experience stuck with her.

And she had a message for the current generation of athletes: “Yes, the competition is important, but it’s about all the experience and the other people that you’re going to meet here at the Games and also the experience with your own teams to suck up.”

Another contestant, former Olympian Sami Jo Small, competed in the 1991 Canada Games in Charlottetown. It was the first time that women’s hockey was included in the event.

“It was really special,” she said. “I’ve been in this room with 13-17 year old athletes … I didn’t know Haley Wickenheiser was in that room, Cassie Campbell was in that room, Sheryl Pounder — so many of Team Canada’s future players that I play next door must have been in this room.”

Weather still ‘worrying’

After all the planning, organizers said there was still one factor out of their control: the winter weather. Snow and ice on Friday caused three flights to be diverted: Team Alberta to Halifax, Team Manitoba to St. John’s, and Team Saskatchewan to Moncton.

But a good amount of snow is also an important part of many games events, said the CEO.

McFeely said organizers worked hard to ensure there was enough snow on the ground for the events.

“You always look at the forecast there and we have good cold weather next week so we can make a lot of snow,” he said.

“So, you know, that would be a problem…but for the most part, I think we’re ready.”


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