Years of planning and preparation for the largest sporting event in southwest Saskatchewan came to fruition when the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games kicked off in Swift Current, Aug. 9.
For Games Co-chair Mark Benesh it was really exciting to see the first athletes arrive and to have the first games played.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this and doing a lot of legwork,” he said during a media briefing on opening day. “I was part of some of the volunteering to help set up Irwin gym and set up the schools and do all those things, and to see people pitch in and solve things and it was exciting that the next stage happened, because then they showed up and we had to be ready for them and move things along and then they played today, which was an awesome thing. So it’s real. It’s what it’s about.”
He added that many of those who are involved with the hosting committee have been part of tournaments before, but this event is just bigger and with so many facets.
“That’s been the challenge of pulling everything together, but we’ve got just an outstanding board supporting us and who have expertise in these areas,” he said. “We want to ensure the best Games experience for both volunteers, athletes, coaches, officials, everyone involved, and also spectators. We want our community to also enjoy the Games and be a part of it.”
Games Co-chair Melissa Shaw expressed appreciation towards the community for supporting the event in various ways.
“The vast number of volunteers, funding partners and participants involved have made this possible,” she said. “This event would not be taking place if it weren't for all of them.”
Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault described the start of the Games as a “pinch me” moment filled with excitement and anticipation.
“It doesn't feel real,” he said. “It seems like yesterday when we brought this to fruition and made a decision and a conscious effort to be able to go after these Games. … It’s absolutely incredible. I'm forever grateful for everybody that’s working so hard to bring this dream to a reality, and it still doesn’t seem real.”
Over 1,700 athletes, coaches, officials and mission staff will attend the 10 days of competition. The athletes will participate in 16 sports at 20 venues in Swift Current and surrounding communities.
“It was a concerted effort to go after something this big,” he said. “This is the biggest event to ever come to the southwest. That’s something overwhelming when you start thinking about it, but we knew that our community wants big events here. We know our community always steps up when asked to be volunteers, to be sponsors, and to be part of something so much bigger, and we decided collectively that we would do this.”
Competition at the Games takes place in two phases. There were 800 athletes during the initial five days. They competed in basketball, beach volleyball, canoe and kayak, cycling, soccer, softball, and swimming.
The first phase wrapped up on Aug. 13, when those athletes departed and the next group of competitors arrived at the athlete’s village.
Games Manager Denise Barbier reflected on the first phase of the event during a media briefing on Aug. 14.
“As the games manager, it’s very satisfying for me to see the team that we’ve been building for the past two years come together and deliver a fantastic phase one at the Games,” she said. “I’m glad to report that things went quite smoothly during our first phase of the Games. There was really strong, healthy competition among the athletes and between the provinces and territories, and the calibre of the athletic ability was impressive and the fan attendance was also impressive. We had great crowds and the athletes loved competing in front of cheering fans.”
She noted that the previous day was a really important and busy one for the event organizers and volunteers who were helping with the turnaround between the two phases of the competition.
“Our village team was very busy, making that turnover,” she said. “They made up over 800 beds and got the village ready for that new batch. Our venue teams were also really busy. They had to close down six venues, but they also had all the venues set up for nine new sports yesterday. So it was a really busy day, but things went smoothly and everyone was happy with the result of that.”
She emphasized the new group of athletes and visitors will receive the same care and attention that the first phase participants received.
“While it’s not our first day as an organizing committee anymore and we’ve sort of worked out some of the jitters and tweaked a few things, for this new batch it’s a brand-new day,” she said. “This is their day one, and so we’re energetic for them and excited about their new experience.”
Athletes will compete in nine different sports during the second phase – athletics, baseball, diving, golf, rowing, tennis, triathlon, volleyball, and wrestling. The Games will conclude on Aug. 18 with the closing ceremony in the Stockade at Kinetic Exhibition Park. Doors open 3 p.m. and the show starts 4 p.m.
Team Alberta was clear of the other teams in the medal standings at the halfway mark of the Games. Alberta athletes have collected a total of 178 medals (66 gold, 59 silver, and 53 bronze).
Manitoba and Saskatchewan were in a tight race for second spot in the medal standings. Team Manitoba had a slight edge after the first phase of competition with 85 medals (30 gold, 30 silver, and 25 bronze), and Team Saskatchewan was chasing hard with 81 medals (21 gold, 28 silver, and 32 bronze). Yukon athletes received five medals (one silver, and four bronze), and the Northwest Territories had three medals (one gold, and two bronze).
Details about the daily sport schedule, results, and the medal standings are available on the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games website at www.2019wcsg.ca