September 20th, 2021

City celebrates local athletes competing at Tokyo Olympics

By Herald on July 23, 2021.

The Minyo Dancers perform Friday morning at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens during a ceremony honouring Lethbridge athletes who will be competing at the Tokyo Games. Herald photo by Dale Woodard

Dale Woodard – Lethbridge Herald

A single medal has yet to be doled out at the Tokyo Games, but Lethbridge has already put in a podium performance.

Celebrating southern Alberta’s presence at this year’s game was the event Friday morning in a ceremony at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden.

With a host of former local Olympians in attendance, the past saluted the present as Liz Gleadle (athletics, javelin), Jillian Weir (athletics, hammer throw), Kayla Moleschi (rugby), Keyara Wardley (rugby), Ross Bekkering (3X3 basketball for the Netherlands) Larry Steinke (athletics coach) and Jon Koopmans (technical engineer for an international broadcaster) get ready to make their Olympic mark.

“I think it’s wonderful, especially for the youth who are going back to sport to now be able to watch people from Lethbridge who have made it to the Olympics,” said Susan Eymann, executive director of the Lethbridge Sport Council. “It can be very inspiring to a young, up-and-coming athlete.”

Among the speakers was George Gemer, a well-known Lethbridge track and field and fencing coach who coached and officiated at past Olympics, Commonwealth Games and other world class events.

Gemer’s memorabilia from the 1964 Olympics — the last time Tokyo hosted the Games — will be on display the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens.

The event also featured entertainment from the Minyo Dancers, who performed a pair of numbers.

“It was very nice to see the turnout,” said Eymann. “Community people and sports people are really proud of the accomplishments that come out of Lethbridge and the region. Then to have some Olympians show up as well just shows how that pride continues and I stress to everyone and them, they’re not past Olympians, they’re Olympians. Once an Olympian, always an Olympian.”

Eymann said the development of local Olympics is a testament to public organizations such as the University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge College, the province and the City of Lethbridge for building the facilities.

“Something everybody can use. What’s really nice is it’s not just athletes who are attending the Olympics. There are people behind the scenes like Jon Koopmans. There are coaches like Larry Steinke and people like Ross Bekkering, who is competing for another country, but we’re claiming him as our own. It’s something for everyone.”

The U of L will be represented by Moleschi and Steinke, but Director of Pronghorns Athletics and former Horns rugby coach Neil Langevin noted another alumnus currently in Japan.

Although not accredited to be a part of the Games, Linsie MacDonald — who played rugby for the Pronghorns  from 2000-2004 — is the physiotherapist for the Canadian badminton team.

Moleschi played once season at the U of L in 2011.

Ten years after the fact, her impact is still felt.

“She’s a special athlete at any level and at the university level moreso,” said Langevin. “But she has really ingrained herself with the community. She’s an honest girl, she works hard. She’s just an incredible competitor and really matches up well with southern Alberta.”

With fellow Pronghorns alumnus Ashley Steacy on board, Canada won bronze at the Rio games in 2016

“They’re medal hopefuls again and we’re hoping it’s gold this time,” said Langevin, who saw Moleschi last year at Team Canada’s training environment.

“She’s doing well and she’s changed her game to fit. She’s just a true competitor and to be among the world’s greatest, we’re just to proud of her and humbled to have met her.”

The Tokyo Games is Steinke’s fifth Olympics.

“Larry is a hero now, five Olympic games,” said Langevin. “That’s remarkable longevity and it’s a remarkable contribution to throws in Canada. It’s interesting seeing George here because you can see that direct impact from George and the University of Lethbridge. Throws have always been a thing since George established it and Larry has done nothing but grow it.”

Rick Duff represented Canada — and Lethbridge — in the boxing ring at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

On hand at Friday’s ceremony, the past Olympian embraced the chance to salute the current ones.

“I’m so proud of Lethbridge people to come support their athletes,” said Duff, who competed as a middleweight at the 1984 Games, losing in the second round to eventual gold medalist Shin Joon-Sup of South Korea. “When I went to LA in 1984 I didn’t know what was going on back home, but I had them in my suitcase with me. I fought for Lethbridge, Alberta and Canada.”

Duff remembered the attention he received locally before heading to Los Angeles.

“I remember talking to the Lethbridge Herald and TV stations here in town before I left and they gave me a beautiful sendoff,” said Scott. “I was in Vancouver in a training camp, we finished the training camp and then it was off to LA. Security was high and going through the athletes’ village with your six suitcases, all of a sudden you think ‘Wow, the Games are on and I’m here now. I’m here and there’s no turning back.’” That’s pretty exciting, especially when I watched the open ceremonies (Friday morning in Tokyo), it just brought back memories. (It feels) like my journey in 1984 was yesterday.”

Thanks to social media, local fans will be able to reach their athletes and coaches overseas as the Game progress.

The message is simple, said Eymann

“You got this. Go Canada. Go Lethbridge. They’ll hear us. We’ll be on social media. We were able to put cheers and messages in to different team members, so they’re receiving all that across the sea.”

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