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Langford getting ready to revel in Rio

Posted on June 25, 2016

Langford Mayor Stew Young said 20 years ago that his council had a vision of building sports and recreation facilities that could be used by everyone, from grassroots participants to Olympians.

That project has been largely realized, and Young wants the community to revel in it. Each day of the Rio Summer Olympics, Aug. 5-21, and Rio Paralympics, Sept. 7-18, will feature a free public Olympic and Paralympic Fan Zone at Westin Bear Mountain where fans can cheer Canadian athletes.

The event, labelled Rio Ready, will have an emphasis on activities for family and children. With, of course, massive television screens everywhere.

“We want to inspire our young people with what the Olympians are doing this summer and to let them know [the Lower Island] is where many of these athletes are training,” Young said.

Ten national sports centres are located in Greater Victoria and the region has produced several of the Olympians and Paralympians who will compete for Canada this summer.

“In Victoria, inspiration is just a few steps away,” said rowing legend Silken Laumann, who brought her three Olympic medals to a news conference Friday at Bear Mountain.

Laumann noted that regular duffers swim daily beside Olympians and Paralympians at Saanich Commonwealth Place, row beside them on Elk Lake and run beside them in road races around the region.

“That is unique to Victoria and Langford, and it provides such an inspiration to children,” she said.

Olympic qualifying is ongoing, but as many as 50 athletes who are either from the Island or who train here could be headed to the Rio Olympics and Paralympics.

“These athletes are part of our community,” Young said. “You’ve seen them, day in and day out, training amongst us the past four years.”

A special emphasis will be placed on the viewing parties at Bear Mountain that will feature such Island or Island-based athletes as rowers, swimmers, triathletes, mountain bikers and the women’s rugby sevens players.

The Olympic opening ceremony, at 2 p.m. PT on Aug. 5 from Maracana Stadium, will be an especially festive moment to kick off the weeks of viewing and activities.

Laumann said she would have no problem going to Rio, despite reports of street crime, security issues, floating sewage at water-sport venues and the presence of the Zika virus. Pre-Games controversy is normal, she said.

“The concerns are very real and I’m sure it crosses the minds of the athletes,” Laumann said. “But they are so focused on their goals — and they are professionals, who know how to deal with all that in their competitions.”

That’s what makes Olympians so compelling to the Canadian public, Laumann said.

“Athletes are regular Canadians with extraordinary dreams. We feel connected to them because of that.”

Story by: Cleeve Dheenshaw