Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh will race for a spot on Canada’s Olympic skeleton team this month in Calgary and Whistler, B.C. (FILE PHOTO)
It’s 125 days until the 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia, but the first big step is just two weeks away for Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh.
The 29-year-old Neelin High School graduate returned to the skeleton track at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary this week for her first runs of the season as she prepares for the upcoming national team trials hoping to earn a trip to her first Winter Games.
"It feels like home," Hawrysh said this week via telephone from Calgary after completing her first runs after six months of dryland training. "It was definitely what I have been craving, so it’s good to be back."
Hawrysh and Russell’s Jon Montgomery — the men’s gold medallist in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — will compete in the national team selection races on Oct. 19 in Calgary and Oct. 27 in Whistler, B.C. Hawrysh is coming off of a remarkable rookie season in which she posted a pair of fourth-place finishes and placed eighth overall on the World Cup tour behind Canadian teammates Sarah Reid (fifth) and former Olympic medallist Mellisa Hollingsworth (sixth). Canada will send three women’s skeleton sliders to the Olympics, with Hawrysh, Reid and Hollingsworth the favourites to secure those spots.
For Hawrysh, the enormity of what lies ahead has been overwhelming at times, but focusing on her off-season training and the support of family and friends has helped keep it all in perspective. And there was no better feeling than getting back to racing down a frozen track this week — head first, of course — at 140 km/h.
"I am as prepared as I have ever been for something this big, but I am definitely trying to keep myself really balanced and grounded," Hawrysh said. "This summer it was hard mentally. … It’s different than last year certainly, or any other year before, but I think that I have gone through lots of different emotions and thoughts and stuff over the last six months and I’m where I need to be right now."
In 125 days, she could very well be Brandon’s next Olympian.
Hawrysh and Montgomery aren’t the only Westman athletes chasing Olympic glory this season.
Just down the road in Virden, pairs figure skaters Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers are preparing for their shot at Sochi, fine-tuning programs they hope will send them to the Olympics.
The Saskatchewan natives, who have lived and trained full-time in Virden for the past few years, will compete at Skate Canada International in Saint John, N.B., Oct. 25-27, and at the NHK Trophy Grand Prix event in Tokyo, Nov. 8-10, as they gear up for the Canadian championships in Ottawa from Jan. 9-15 when the Olympic team will be selected. Canada will send its top three pairs teams to the Olympics, with Lawrence, 23, and Swiegers, 26, right in the mix after having finished third at nationals in each of the past two seasons.
"Their programs this year are amazing," said coach Patty Hole of Virden. "It’s just a matter of getting healthy and injury-free and performing."
Minnedosa’s Kyle Parrott, who competed for Canada in long track speed skating in the Vancouver Olympics, is also a possible candidate for Sochi.
The 28-year-old graduate of the Westman Speed Skating Club took time off from the sport after the 2010 Games, but is expected to try to get back onto the World Cup circuit at the Canadian team trials Oct. 17-20 in Calgary, with the Olympic team trials to follow Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. A member of the national development team last season, Parrott competed in the 500 metres, 1,000m and 1,500m in the last Olympics.
There is also a chance that Brandon could be represented in curling at the Sochi Games. While the field is deep and the odds are long, five current or former Brandonites do have at least a chance at qualifying for the Olympics.
Brandon’s Rob Fowler, with local rinkmates Allan Lyburn and Brendan Taylor, as well as Winnipegger Derek Samagalski, will be one of 12 teams competing in the pre-trials — the Road to the Roar — from Nov. 5-10 in Kitchener, Ont. From there, the top two teams will join six others in the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials — the Roar of the Rings — from Dec. 1-8 at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.
Already slated to take part in that event are former Brandonite Mike McEwen’s Winnipeg-based team and Kevin Koe’s Calgary foursome that features former Brandon native Nolan Thiessen. Meanwhile, former Brandon resident Jill Officer will also take part in the Roar of the Rings on Jennifer Jones’ Winnipeg foursome, one of eight women’s teams that will battle for a trip to the Olympic Games.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 4, 2013