BY BILL PHILLIPS
When we think of Olympic athletes, we often picture them starting at an early age, working their given sport until they are among the world’s elites.
While that is often the case, sometimes it isn’t.
Two-time Olympic rower Will Dean from Kelowna is a prime example of that. He was a basketball player throughout his high school years.
“I came to rowing relatively late,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “A lot of people could have a similar story to me. With the right opportunity they could compete in the Olympics.”
The 29-year-old native of Kelowna is a member of the men’s quadruple sculls, one of seven Canadian boats that qualified for Rio. It was the second Olympic experience for Dean, who made his Olympic debut at London 2012 as a member of the men’s four that finished ninth. The University of California Berkeley grad (degree in English and won an NCAA championship in men’s 8s in 2010) made the switch from coxless 4s to quad sculls in 2014 (in sculls each rower has two oars – in coxless 4s each rower has one oar).
To help other achieve similar goals, he is participating in RBC Training Ground – the Canadian Olympic Committee’s (COC) program to bring new and undiscovered athletes into Canada’s Olympic talent pool, which will be at the Northern Sport Centre Saturday.
RBC Training Ground gives local athletes – no matter what sport they are involved in – the chance to test their strength, speed and endurance in front of officials from 11 Olympic sports, and earn ‘Future Olympian’ funding from RBC
“It’s easy to throw money at athletes who are doing really well,” Dean said. “This program is looking towards the future.”
Local athletes between the ages of 14 and 25 are encouraged to sign up in advance at rbctrainingground.ca. At the event they will perform speed, power, strength and endurance benchmark tests in front of officials from the Canadian Olympic Committee and 11 national sport organizations in the hopes of being discovered and directed toward an Olympic sport.
The athletes will be put through physiological testing and will have access to Olympians, who will give them an idea what it takes to get to that level. And, Dean says, once examined by coaches from different sports, athletes might find they are a fit in a different area than they thought.
Last year this program found a 16-year old hockey player from Surrey, Kieanna Stephens, who is now with rowing Canada, and finished fifth at nationals after only six months of rowing.
“It’s a really good opportunity to find your fit,” said Dean. “And it’s going to a be a lot of fun.”
Officials from national sports organizations including Cycling Canada, Rugby Canada, Athletics Canada, Canoe Kayak Canada, Rowing Canada, Bobsleigh Canada, Alpine Canada, Judo Canada, Triathlon Canada and Water Polo Canada – searching for hidden gems and potential cross-over talent.
It will all take place at the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre on Saturday. Sign up in advance at rbctrainingground.ca