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Olympic gold-medallist Micah Zandee-Hart receives rousing welcome home

The first thing Micah Zandee-Hart did upon entering the terminal at YYJ was to place the gold medal around the neck of her mother, Pat.

The No. 28 Micah Zandee-Hart Team Canada jersey — worn from eight-month-old nephew Hendrix up to grandparents Tom and Elaine Zandee — dotted Victoria International Airport on Monday afternoon.

The gold-medallist hockey player from Saanichton was welcomed home from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics with a rapturous collective embrace by family and friends.

The first thing Zandee-Hart did upon entering the terminal was to place the gold medal around the neck of her mother, Pat.

“This is so fitting on Family Day because it takes a village,” said Zandee-Hart.

“I’m overwhelmed by this reception. It means the world to me. Family and friends are everything to me. This caps a dream come true.”

And continues what has become a decades-long YYJ tradition of throngs of supporters welcoming home Island sporting heroes, the most recent being Zandee-Hart, the Canadian Premier League-champion Pacific FC pro soccer club in December and a busy summer of homecomings from the Tokyo Olympics capped by the return of the Elk Lake-based gold-medallist Canadian rowing eights crews.

“What a journey these last few years, through the pandemic, have been for every Olympic athlete – and every athlete,” said Zandee-Hart.

“There is so much support in this community and you can feel it at moments like this.”

Hugs and tears were the order of the day, along with an impromptu singing of O Canada.

“We are so proud of Micah from since she was just little. She had a goal and saw it through,” said grandfather Tom Zandee.

“She deserves this. She’s worked hard and earned it.”

Shelley Garner, playing-coach of the Peninsula Bladerunners women’s hockey team, was decked in red and white from her head to her shoes: “Micah once helped us by conducting a skills session at Panorama and what a thrill. We all got to live vicariously through her at the Olympics.”

Micah, who grew up playing on boys’ teams in the Peninsula Minor Hockey Association, said she became a blueliner because older brother Ben played defence for the Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.

“This is a dream come true, surreal almost, to have Micah come home with an Olympic gold medal,” said her sibling Ben.

“She’s worked so hard for this.”

The Island is better known for producing Summer Olympics medallists. But Zandee-Hart extended the Island’s Winter Olympics gold-medal streak to three consecutive Games following Dallas Stars captain and Central Saanich-product Jamie Benn’s gold in men’s hockey at Sochi 2014 and Comox freestyle-skier Cassie Sharpe’s gold in women’s halfpipe at Pyeongchang 2018. Mount Washington-produced Sharpe followed up with a resolute comeback-from-injury Olympic silver medal in Beijing.

Several other Olympic athletes and coaches were on the flight with Zandee-Hart to Victoria from Vancouver, following the long leg from Beijing, with each also receiving rousing cheers at YYJ from the Zandee-Hart supporters.

“This is great,” said Esquimalt-resident Chris Spring, who piloted Canada to seventh place in the four-man bobsled.

Asked about his overall impression of the Beijing Olympics, Spring replied: “I was pleasantly surprised that the organizing committee did a great job and pulled it off amid the most difficult of conditions due to the pandemic.”

At 37 and with four Winter Olympics under his belt at Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014, Pyeongchang 2018 and Beijing 2022, the veteran Spring now plays it year-by-year.

But the 25-year-old Zandee-Hart is not yet done with her Olympic journey and has committed herself to the cycle leading to the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

“I love what I do and have put a lot into it and will continue playing for as long as I can,” she said.

It is clear her continuing quest will be well supported on the home front.