B.C. hills are a training ground for Canadian Olympians

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      Mountains like Big White, Sun Peaks, and, of course, Whistler and Blackcomb make B.C. something of an elite training ground for alpine sporting events. So with the 2018 Winter Olympic Games less than 100 days away, Canada’s West Coast is crowded with many of the country’s very best athletes.

      In a telephone interview, Brendan Matthews, director of business operations for Canada Snowboard, said the team that travels to the 2018 host city of PyeongChang, South Korea, won’t be named until January. But he told the Straight there are a few B.C. athletes who are thought to stand a very good chance of making the list.

      “New for 2018, big air is included in the Olympics,” Matthews said. “And we [in B.C.] have some of the top athletes in the world in both slopestyle and big air right now.”

      That includes Darcy Sharp, who is originally from Comox but today lives in Whistler, and Spencer O’Brien, who was born in Alert Bay but has called Whistler home since she was 17.

      Sharp has been on a hot streak for the past two years, winning a silver in slopestyle at the 2017-18 New Zealand Winter Games, for example, and placing second at the Banana Open summer 2017 competition in China. O’Brien placed fourth at last year’s Winter X Games big-air competition in Oslo.

      The rules of the 2018 Olympics say snowboarders must compete in both big air—in which athletes sail off one very large jump, usually doing a combination of spins and flips through the air—and slopestyle, which consists of a series of jumps and rails. Matthews said Canada has as many as six snowboarders who are good enough to contend for Olympic medals in those events this year but is only allowed to send four of them. “So the drama is on,” he added.

      B.C. has a list of riders competing to represent Canada in snowboard cross (where athletes race at the same time). Among them Matthews mentioned Kevin Hill of Vernon, Carle Brenneman of North Vancouver, and Chris Robanske and Zoe Bergermann, both of Squamish.

      Matthews noted that B.C.’s big mountains have drawn riders here from across Canada, and he added that it’s the staff at those hills who keep the talent here. He mentioned Whistler Blackcomb and Big White specifically, both of which prepare terrain on which Olympic hopefuls train ahead of each Winter Games.

      “Partners like those two have been really influential in developing our athletes,” Matthews said.

      Canada's national snowboard team practicing at Whistler Blackcomb in January 2016.
      Snowboard Canada

      Discussing skiing with the Straight, Alpine Canada athletic director Martin Rufener said there are two names that B.C. should be excited about: Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Benjamin Thomsen.

      Based out of North Vancouver and Invermere, respectively, both athletes hope to travel to PyeongChang. Rufener said he’s enjoying watching their roads to the Olympics because the two of them are coming from very different places.

      In 2017, Osborne-Paradis ranks 11th in the world in downhill and 28th overall, while Thomsen is rated 28th in downhill and 81st overall.

      “Manny is right up there…looking good to make the first qualification to go to Korea and to have a chance there to win a medal,” Rufener said. “Ben is in a different position. He’s coming back from an injury after a couple of years, finally getting back healthy. He has a long way to qualify, because he’s starting far back in the field.

      “But they’re both guys from B.C. who have a good chance of going to the Games,” Rufener added.