P.G. sends off youth Olympian

Sarah Beaudry is continuing her meteoric climb up the international competition ladder with all of Prince George to cheer her on.

The 17-year-old Duchess Park secondary school senior is one 54 athletes representing Canada at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Innsbruck, Austria.

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As the family joke goes, Beaudry has been on skis since before she could walk, and that dedication has landed her a spot on the country's four-person biathlon team.

The European competition, drawing more than 1,100 athletes from more than 60 countries, is the first in what could be a string of successes for the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club member.

"I'm just really excited about leaving this Sunday," Beaudry said, thanking her parents, club and supporters. "I think it will be a great experience to just be there and to experience everybody in Innsbruck and all the culture and all the different people."

Depending on how she performs in Austria, Beaudry may qualify for the World Youth/Junior Championships in Finland at the end of February. If she doesn't qualify while overseas, she will go straight from the YOG to Quebec to compete in the North American Cup.

Beaudry's 2011 saw her bring home a gold and two bronze medals from the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax and finish as the top Canadian female at the 2011 World Youth Championships - finishing 33rd in a pack of 73 in the 10-kilometre individual race - in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.

According to Beaudry's mother, having that Czech competition under her belt will be an advantage going into the YOG - which officially kicks off Jan. 13.

"The experience of world travel will really help her this year," Leisbet Beaudry said. "When you travel with a national team, you don't go with your regular coach. So you have to be flexible and still be focused on that."

For the skier's many supporters, the focus is making sure the local athlete knows everyone is behind her. A group of political and sport officials gathered yesterday morning at the Coast Inn of the North to wish Beaudry well.

"She's the most incredible role model without being asked. She totally takes these 12, 13, 14 year olds under her wing and inspires them to work hard and still enjoy their training," said Kristen Harrott, general manager of PacificSport Northern B.C. "I've never seen someone just take them on without being asked and some kids have some rough days and she's always there to flip them upside down and do whatever she's got to do to bring the whole team together."

Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond called Beaudry a "really great young woman" and recognized her family for their role in making her the sport ambassador she has become.

"A family has a lot to do with how someone like this grows up and sacrifices a lot, I'm sure, to make sure that Sarah has what she needs to be as successful as she is," Bond said. Prince George Mayor Shari Green, Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell and 2015 Canada Winter Games CEO Stuart Ballantyne were also in attendance for Beaudry's sendoff.

A banner will be available at the Northern Sport Centre until Jan. 9 for community members to sign to show their support for Beaudry, whose parents, Leisbet and Pierre, will take it along with them when they travel to Austria next Wednesday.

"It's really nice coming from Prince George because you know everybody here likes sports and likes to get involved and is really behind you in everything you do. That really helps the best," said Beaudry, who can see herself competing in the 2018 Olympics.

The YOG are for athletes between the ages of 14 and 19 and will feature 63 medal events in seven sports. In order to foster a sense of unity and cultural understanding, athletes are expected to stay in the host city from opening to closing ceremonies and participate in an integrated sport, culture and education program. Also, during gold-medal ceremonies, the Olympic flag will be raised as the Olympic anthem is played, instead of one specific to the winning athlete's home country.

Beaudry's first event, the sprint, takes place Jan. 15. To follow her progress and the rest of Team Canada, visit www.innsbruck2012.com or "Like" Innsbruck 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games on Facebook.

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