Matt Neumann, Canadian Olympian. In biathlon, he seems on target to earn that title.
Neumann’s sport brings together the disciplines of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. Last season, he was awarded three gold medals at the North American/Canadian championships and went on to compete in the world junior championships.
Neumann, who developed his skills with the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, was back at the world juniors this past winter. At the event, in Sweden, he was part of a Canadian team that placed 12th out of 18 in the 4x7.5-kilometre relay. Neumann also posted two 46th-place finishes (sprint and pursuit) and was 73rd in the individual start race.
The next Winter Olympics are in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
Rugby, wrestling and football – Wes Black is a true three-sport star.
In 2008, Black helped the Under-17 version of Team Canada to a 3-0 record at an international rugby tournament in England. On the provincial pitch, he has served as a Team B.C. captain.
In wrestling, Black holds two national championships and a Western Canadian title in his weight class. In 2009, his grappling skills got him named to the Under-18 national team.
On the gridiron, Black was a star running back, linebacker and punter for the PGSS Polars last season. Currently, he has B.C. Junior Football League teams scrambling to get him on their rosters. One team interested in signing him is the Vancouver Island Raiders, the 2008 and 2009 national champions.
Don’t mess with a Bull – especially if her first name is Erin.
Erin Bull is a 2009 Canadian champion in the martial arts discipline of taekwon-do. At the national championship tournament, held in Montreal, she competed in junior girls middleweight sparring and posted a 3-0 match record. In the bout for gold, she attacked her Quebec opponent relentlessly and won in dominant fashion.
Bull, a black belt, later represented Canada at the world junior championships in Argentina. Bull also competed at world championships in 2006 in Australia and in 2007 in England. Her sister, Sydney, is also an international-level taekwon-do athlete.
Bull was a member of Prince George’s Family Taekwon-Do for nine years and now trains at Freedom Taekwon-Do under the guidance of Kurt Ottesen, one of the newest inductees into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame.
The record stood for 34 years. Andrew Chrobot shattered it into tiny pieces.
During the 2008 season, Chrobot set a new Prince George Barracudas swim club record in the 400-metre individual medley for 15- to 17-year-old boys. At a meet in Oregon, he finished the race in four minutes 25.32 seconds. The old mark, set in 1974 by Prince George Sports Hall of Fame member Jim Fowlie, was 4:27.40. Chrobot was 16 at the time of his swim, while Fowlie had already turned 18 when he established the original record.
In 2009, Chrobot was a Team B.C. athlete for the Canada Summer Games and placed fourth overall in the boys 19-and-under 400m IM. Also in 2009, at the age group nationals, Chrobot helped the Barracudas place 18th out of 198 clubs. Later in the year, he competed at the U.S. Open in Washington State.
As a first-year member of his hometown Prince George Cougars, Brett Connolly skated to the top of Canada.
In a historic 2008-09 season, Connolly became the first Cougars player to be named rookie of the year in the Western Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League. He finished the regular schedule with 30 goals and 60 points, tops on the club.
Connolly also helped Team Pacific win a silver medal at the World Under-17 Challenge and was the youngest member of Team Canada for the Under-18 World Championship. Last summer, Connolly again played for Canada, this time at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament in the Czech Republic. With Connolly in the lineup, Canada claimed gold.
Connolly has been hampered by hip problems this season but is still ranked as the highest WHL prospect for the 2010 National Hockey League entry draft.
When Kevin Gaiesky goes for a walk, it’s not just a leisurely stroll.
Gaiesky is a national-calibre race walker. At the 2009 youth national championships, he powered his way to a silver medal in the 1,500-metre distance. To qualify for nationals, he gave a golden performance at the B.C. finals.
Gaiesky, a Prince George Track and Field Club member who attends D.P. Todd secondary, was also a silver medallist at the 2009 B.C. high school championships. He also secured silver at the 2008 high school provincials, even though he was one of the youngest athletes in the field.
Gaiesky has shown tremendous discipline in his training because the PGTFC does not have a designated race walking coach.
For the first time in her swimming career, Katie Mann ventured into international waters.
While at the 2009 Paul Bergen International in Portland, she swamped some of the top young talents in the United States. Mann competed on behalf of the Prince George Barracudas and won the B-final in the 400-metre individual medley in a time of four minutes 51.84 seconds. She also placed seventh in the A-final of the 200m backstroke and fourth in the B-final of the 200m IM. Both her times – 2:18.81 and 2:20.22 – were new Barracudas club records.
Earlier in the year, Mann was on Team B.C. for the Canada Summer Games in Charlottetown and also swam at the age group nationals and senior national championships in Montreal.
Back in 2008, she attended the Canadian Olympic trials, also in Montreal. Mann had no problem handing the pressure and turned in her best performance up until that time in the 200m IM, a clocking of 2:30.05.
Marinka Van Hage strapped on her snowshoes and found international gold in Idaho.
At the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games, Van Hage won two gold medals in her sport. First, she outpaced all her rivals in the 800-metre race and crossed the finish line in a time of seven minutes one second – about 20 seconds faster than anyone else. Van Hage, 17 at the time, used a strong kick to move from fourth to first in the last 100m. The next day, Van Hage was back in her snowshoes for a 1,600m race. In that one, she clocked in at 14:27 and left her nearest opponent 26 seconds behind.
Van Hage was making her second appearance at a Special Olympics World Games. In 2007, she competed in 10-pin bowling at the summer version of the event.
Within her age group, Alix Wells goes from top to bottom as quickly as anyone in Canada.
In the 2008-09 season, her first in the K2 division (13- and 14-year-olds), Wells zipped to a national bronze medal in slalom. Prior to nationals, she claimed silver in giant slalom at provincials. Wells ended the year as the No. 2-ranked skier in B.C.
This past season, as a second-year K2 athlete, Wells was ranked No. 1 in B.C. and was considered to be in the top three in the country.
“She has amazing touch on the snow and has a very good mental approach,” said Mike Stratton, head coach of the Prince George Alpine Ski Racers. “She sees the terrain and the hill very well.”
Wells gained extra notoriety in late January when she ran the final leg of the Olympic torch relay in Prince George and lit the cauldron.
On the basketball court, Mercedes Van Koughnett is driving her way to stardom.
This past season in the B.C. Colleges Athletic Association, Van Koughnett was a rookie guard for the UNBC Northern Timberwolves. She was also a starter, rare indeed for a first-year player. Van Koughnett was so versatile, she filled point guard and shooting guard spots with equal effectiveness.
“She can play anything,” said Christine Kennedy, one of her UNBC teammates. “Her fire, her passion for the game, transfers to everybody. Honestly, I never think of her as being a rookie.”
Despite her youth, Van Koughnett established herself as one of the league’s top playmakers. She averaged close to three assists per game.
Van Koughnett is a graduate of Duchess Park secondary school. There, she started playing on the senior team in Grade 9. When she was in Grade 10, she was picked as an all-star at the double-A provincial championship tournament.