A young curling star from Northern Ontario is going to be leading Team Canada into the opening ceremony for the Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 this week in Switzerland.
Lauren Rajala, from the Greater Sudbury, Ont., community of Garson, has been selected as the flag-bearer.
"I never thought I'd be leading all of Team Canada into the Youth Olympics and wearing the Maple Leaf. It hasn't really sunk in yet," Rajala said.
"I'm thankful for this experience at such a young age. I'm going to take it all in and take it with me and move forward."
Rajala, 17, has seen incredible success in her young career on and off the field of play.
In 2019, she won gold at the under-18 Canada Winter Games as well as at the under-18 Nationals. She is an Ontario Canada Winter Games Trials champion and a Northern Ontario under-18 Provincial champion. Earlier in the year, as part of Team Croisier, she was inducted into the Greater Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame in the Chris Sheridan Family team of the year category.
At school, Rajala is an honour roll student and a three-time Lancer Scholar, a title given to those that maintain an 80 per cent or higher average over three years. In addition, she is a three-time curling MVP at school, the Grade 11 female athlete of the year and a member of student council and the Eco School Club.
"I'm honoured and humbled by this experience. And I feel like this is just the beginning," Rajala said. "I don't want this to be the last time I wear the Maple Leaf on my back."
As the official broadcaster in Canada, CBC will provide daily coverage of the competitions from Thursday, Jan. 9 to Wednesday, Jan. 22 via the free CBC Gem streaming service as well as cbcsports.ca, radio-canada.ca/sports and the CBC Sports and Radio-Canada Sports apps.
In addition to live streams of the events offered through CBC Sports and Radio-Canada Sports digital platforms, daily coverage of the Youth Olympic Games will include real-time updates from reporter Devin Heroux, who will be on the ground in Lausanne to report breaking news and provide insightful commentary for cbcsports.ca.
78 athletes make up Team Canada
Canada is sending its largest-ever delegation to compete at the Winter Youth Olympics. Seventy-eight athletes from the country will be wearing the Maple Leaf as they compete in just the third instalment ever of the event. See below for the full list of Team Canada's roster.
The first Youth Olympic Winter Games were held in Innsbruck, Austria, in 2012. In 2016, the Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway.
Rajala will be accompanied by the Canadian delegation of athletes along with 24 coaches in Switzerland. The Games will be a completely gender-equal event with the same number of male and female athletes competing.
Team Canada features athletes ranging from 15-18 years of age. Of the 78 athletes, 24 are from Alberta, 19 from Ontario, 14 from Quebec, 13 from British Columbia, three from Manitoba, two from Yukon and one from Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.
"I'm meeting all these people from all over Canada," Rajala said. "I'm so thankful and grateful for this experience."
Rajala has been curling out of the Idylwylde Golf and Country Club in Sudbury for years. She was inspired by her father to take up the sport at the age of seven when she fell in love with curling. It was also right around the time Vancouver was hosting the Winter Olympics — Rajala was motivated to represent her country.
"I remember the 2010 Winter Olympics and Kevin Martin winning the gold medal. I remember the celebration and all the Canadian fans. That's when I realized I wanted to wear the Maple Leaf on my back. It's been a goal ever since," Rajala said.
Rajala will be part of a mixed curling team assembled by Curling Canada to compete in Lausanne. The team opens competition against Russia on Friday, Jan. 10. They will be play five round-robin games before the playoffs begin.
Mixed Curling is one of eight sports athletes will be competing in during Lausanne 2020.
16 disciplines across eight sports
Nearly 1,900 young athletes aged 15-18 will represent more than 200 countries. There will be a total of 81 events in 16 disciplines across eight sports on the Lausanne 2020 program, including four that will make their Olympic debuts.
Ski mountaineering is considered the most radical new sport, while medals will also be awarded for the first time in mixed-nationality three-on-three ice hockey, a women's doubles competition in luge, and a women's Nordic combined ski event. The new disciplines are designed to reflect both innovation and gender equality.
The Youth Olympic Games also aim to encourage young people to embody the positive values of sport but also serve as an important part of their athletic journey.
Canada's Chef de mission, Annamay Oldershaw, says while this experience will serve as a place to learn about sport and life, the team also wants to achieve success on the field of play.
"These Olympic experiences teach you so much. How to deal with regrets and joy and failures and triumph. All of it," Oldershaw said.
"I want our athletes to believe in themselves. I want them to know that they are there because they were chosen to be there."
Oldershaw, a 2008 Olympic swimmer for Canada, has yet to be together with the entirety of Team Canada — that happens on Tuesday when they will all gather in Lausanne draped in red and white for the first time. Competition starts three days later on Friday.
"Whenever you get to wear the Maple Leaf at an international competition is the greatest honour," Oldershaw said. "I'm ready to be these athlete's biggest fan and we'll pour our hearts into this for Canada."
Team Canada roster
Alpine skiing (4)
Sarah Brown, Ottawa
Louis Latulippe, Quebec City
Alice Marchessault, Ste-Anne-des-Lacs, Que.
Mack Wood, Toronto
Ethan Algra, Abbotsford, B.C.
Finn Erik Berg, Calgary
Lucas Sadesky, Vernon, B.C.
Pascale Paradis, Calgary
Jenna Sherrington, Calgary
Naomi Walch, Calgary
Colton Dagenais, Foster, Que.
Emma Johnsen, Calgary
Cross-country skiing (4)
Derek Deuling, Whitehorse
Jasmine Drolet, Rossland, B.C.
Liliane Gagnon, Shawinigan-Sud, Que.
Sasha Masson, Whitehorse
Emily Deschenes, Greely, Ont.
Jaedon Neuert, Winnipeg
Lauren Rajala, Garson, Ont.
Nathan Young, Torbay, N.L.
Figure skating (8)
Catherine Carle, Georgetown, Ont.
Natalie D'Alessandro, Toronto
Tyler Gunara, Burnaby, B.C.
Miku Makita, Anore, B.C.
Brooke McIntosh, Toronto
Aleksa Rakic, New Westminster, B.C.
Brandon Toste, Mississauga, Ont.
Bruce Waddell, Toronto
Freestyle skiing (6)
Skye Clarke, West Vancouver
Rylee Hackler, Calgary
Steven Kahnert, Vancouver
Andrew Longino, Calgary
Emma Morozumi, Calgary
Brayden Willmott, Collingwood, Ont.
Justin Côté, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que.
Nathan Danielson, Red Deer, Alta.
Dylan Ernst, Weyburn, Sask.
Adamo Fantilli, Nobleton, Ont.
Vincent Filion, Shawinigan, Que
Panayioti Fimin, Richmond Hill, Ont.
Conor Geekie, Strathclair, Man.
Cédrick Guindon, Rockland, Ont.
Matt Jovanovic, Toronto
Paul Ludwinski, Pickering, Ont.
Tristan Luneau, Victoriaville, Que.
Denton Mateychuck, Dominion City, Man.
Mats Lindgren, North Vancouver
Ty Nelson, Toronto
Matt Savoie, St. Albert, Alta.
Antonin Verreault, Mirabel, Ont.
Noah Warren, St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que.
Kailey Allan, Calgary
Natalie Corless, Vancouver
Caitlin Nash, Whistler, B.C.
Short track speed skating (2)
Florence Brunelle, Trois-Riviéres, Que.
Félix Pigeon, Granby, Que.
Hallie Clarke, Calgary
Ryan Kuehn, Calgary
Ski cross (4)
Marie-Pier Brunet, Montreal
Charlie Lang, Calgary
Jack Morrow, Whistler, B.C.
Sage Stefani, Rossland, B.C.
Ski jumping (2)
Noah Rolseth, Calgary
Stéphane Tremblay, Calgary
Ski mountaineering (2)
Ema Chlepkova, Calgary
Findlay Eyre, Calgary
Tristan Bell, Aylmer, Que.
Liam Brearley, Gravenhurst, Ont.
William Buffey, Toronto
Andie Gendron, Calgary
Liam Gill, Calgary
Kianah Hyatt, Calgary
Kamilla Kozuback, Calgary
Bridget MacLean, Halifax
Juliette Pelchat, Whistler, B.C.
Seth Strobel, Calgary
Maxeen Thibeault, Montreal
Jacob Walper, Calgary