Two years shy of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, it was a proud moment for biathlete Claire Lapointe Friday afternoon when she led the parade onto the outdoor stage holding the Canadian flag.
She had a great view of the large downtown crowd at the Two Years Out block party, which turned out for a taste of festivals to come in 2015. But the 14-year-old couldn't help but think there's a role for her at the Games that will bring her much closer to the action, racing with a rifle for Team B.C.
"This really motivates me to just try to make it onto the B.C. team for Canada Winter Games," said Lapointe, a third-year biathlete who started skiing the year she learned how to walk.
The Caledonia Nordic Ski Club member would love to follow in the footsteps of fellow club athletes like Olympian Megan Tandy (Heinicke) and world junior biathlete Sarah Beaudry, who have used the Winter Games as a stepping stone to higher-profile events.
"To have the support of my community on home turf would be amazing," said Lapointe. "I've seen many great athletes come through here and it's really inspiring to know, being from a small town, you can make it that far."
If she keeps posting results like she has recently on the B.C. Cup biathlon circuit, Lapointe will get her wish. She earned gold a few weeks ago in Whistler and silver last weekend in Kelowna while racing up an age category as a senior and she'll try for the podium again next weekend when the B.C. Cup circuit comes to her home trails at Otway Nordic Centre.
The large turnout for the pre-Games event was a sign of bigger things to come during the 18 days of the Games, Feb. 15-March 1, 2015, when the city will become a national focal point for sports, arts and culture. It was a circus of fun, food and activities and everybody was enjoying the buzz. Kids pointed laser rifles at biathlon targets. People watched snowboarders/skiers perform tricks riding a rail off a mountain of snow. There were obstacle races, hands-on art projects, dance music, huge video screen showing Canada Games sports highlights, and an inflatable Mr. P.G. dropped by for guest appearance. Lineups for free hotdogs, popcorn and maple syrup treats were long, but nobody was in rush to get fed.
"We've had test events for sporting events so we consider this a test event for the arts, culture and entertainment side and we're really proud of the turnout here," said Mike Davis, 2015 Canada Winter Games director of marketing and communications.
"There's a lot of diverse community organizations here and there's been something for everybody, and that will really be reflected when the Games come. It's a good gauge of community spirit and it's a regional effort. People of all ages are here and it's been a lot of fun. The arts and culture side of it is just as huge as the sports and it's going to be something the city has never seen before."
Jeff Robinson gravitated to the Prince George Alpine Ski Racers booth with his wife and two kids. As a former ski racer and national team coach himself, he wanted to show his support for his hometown club. Robinson knows enough about high-level sports to know the impact of the 2015 Games will forever change the city.
"People think it's a one-time event, they don't think about the legacy," said Robinson. "Every place that's had an event like this, the legacy continues years later with big events. You get that experience of running that high-level event and you get better venues and equipment that help out the clubs. And don't forget the economic boost to the city."
Isobel Hartley's said her 14-year-old son Mark, also a biathlete, is looking forward to the new biathlon range coming to Otway next year, a direct result of Games infrastructure investment, which will double the number of shooting lanes to 32.
"The sport is developing and this year we've had more interest in biathlon, but the range isn't large enough to accommodate all the kids who are interested," said Isobel Hartley. "We don't have enough spaces to allow the kids to be shooting. The new range coming as a result of the Games is going to allow our sport to grow.
"The Games are getting the kids much more focused because they realize there's something coming right here. We just have to hope for the right weather."
The crowd, estimated in excess of 1,000, took advantage of the above-average weather and was treated to a fireworks display from Connaught Hill Park, which marked the end of the two-hour block party.