Saskatchewan Winter Games kick off a year late, but with the same anticipation and enthusiasm
Young athletes have been anticipating this weekend's start of the Saskatchewan Winter Games for a long time.
The Games, which were supposed to be held last year before being cancelled, begin this weekend in Regina.
For Cherish Nontell, a para-Nordic skier from the Little Red River reserve near Christopher Lake, that has meant an extra year to train and get stronger.
"I'm really excited because I've been training so hard for this," said the 17-year-old, who is representing Team Lakeland at the Games.
"I've been counting down the days till it was coming," Nontell said. "I'm looking forward to the closing ceremony because I've seen that before in 2018, and it was actually really fun to attend."
About 1,500 participants will be representing the nine districts competing in Regina in 16 sports ranging from Alpine skiing to wrestling. They'll be joined by about 1,000 volunteers.
The Games were supposed to take place last February on their 50th anniversary. But the pandemic, and specifically the Omicron wave, forced organizers to postpone the event.
In 2020, the Summer Games were cancelled entirely.
Mark Bracken, executive director of the Saskatchewan Games Council, says COVID still casts a long shadow.
"I think it's still in the back of everybody's mind and, actually, the entire sport system, not only in our province but across the country," Bracken said.
"I know there was a lot of disappointment around the postponement, but it was the right thing to do based on the pandemic and what was going on there."
Bracken says it was hard for the athletes to wait a year but now they get a chance to show off their talents.
"The athletes are excited," he said. "We're gearing up and ready to go."
Josie Wiens, a 13-year-old judo competitor from Flin Flon participating in the Games for the first time, is feeling the excitement.
"My friend and I from judo are the only two going from Flin Flon, so it'll be a cool experience," Wiens said. "I think judo's that kind of sport that'll once you get hyped up, you're hyped up and you're good to go.
"And I've never had the dorm experience in the athletes village before, so it'll be cool."
Canada Winter Games
Elsewhere, the Canada Winter Games begin on Saturday in Prince Edward Island.
Saskatoon long-track speed skater Luca Veeman, 17, was Saskatchewan's flag bearer at the opening ceremonies on Saturday.
He is currently ranked in the top three in Canada for junior speed skaters, and is considered a medal favourite in a number of events.
"I'm very excited to be able to lead us into the Games," said Veeman, who recently returned from competing at the World Junior Speed Skating Championships in Germany.
"I was at the Summer Games last year for cycling and it was really cool to experience the ceremonies and walk behind the flag bearer," he recalled. "When I was told I was nominated for the position, I just didn't really believe it. It seemed like it was too good to be true."
Saskatchewan, represented by more than 300 athletes, coaches, managers and support staff, will compete in all 20 sports in P.E.I.