by Sean Lerat-Stetner
With a little under a year to go until the winter Olympics, athletes around the globe are ramping up their training regimes. This is especially true of Canadian athletes who want to perform well in front of their home country. Two such Canadian athletes, born right here in Regina, are Meaghan Simister and Justin Warsylewicz. Simister is vying for a spot on the Canadian women’s Olympic luge team and Warsylewicz is trying to win a spot on the men’s Olympic speed skating team.
Simister, 22, is currently training in Whistler at the Whistler Sliding Center. This is not her first rodeo. In 2006 she was a member of the Olympic team in Torino, Italy qualifying at age 18—which is something of a rarity—after only five years of sliding. Unfortunately, in Torino, she failed to win a medal. But this time around, she is, as the Kanye West song goes, “better, faster, stronger.”
You may be wondering how a woman born on the flat prairies of Saskatchewan gets into the sport of luge. Simister moved with her family from Regina to Calgary when she was four. At age 12 she joined a summer camp in Calgary and loved every minute of it; she hasn’t looked back since. Simister, a very competitive person by nature, says that the main motivating factor pushing her day in and day out is “trying to get a personal best“ at the Olympics. When asked who she admires in the luge world, Simister said the German women’s lugers are at the top of her list. “I try to model myself after how they slide. They pretty much dominate our sport.”
Training for Torino and training for Whistler are two very different experiences for Simister. “Training in Torino was very stressful for me. We didn’t get that many runs, the track was—I would say—extremely difficult for me at the time.”
Whistler, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Simister gets more runs than she did in Torino and likes the Whistler track more because it fits her style a lot better. Also, the track in Whistler is not under construction, as the one Torino was while she was practicing on it in 2006. “I don’t want to say (it was a) let down, but it was. The track wasn’t finished, the facility wasn’t top-notch compared to what it is like here...It’s just night and day.”
Warsylewicz, 23, is also training right now, hoping to win a spot on the Canadian Olympic speed skating team. Warsylewicz moved from Regina to Calgary when he was 17 years old to train in Calgary at the oval. That same year he won the World Junior Championship and earned a spot on the Canadian national team. He then went on to earn a position on the Canadian Olympic speed skating team.
In 2006, Warsylewicz competed in the Torino Olympics in the 1,500 metre, 5,000 metre, and Team Pursuit events. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful in his drive for a medal in the individual events, but he and his teammates won a Silver medal in the men’s Team Pursuit event. “It was pretty cool. I was just really excited to be at the Olympics to begin with,” he recalled.
Warsylewicz says the oval in Whistler is “amazing” and that the facility is very beautiful. His rigorous six-day-per-week training schedule consists of three hours of training in the morning followed by a recovery period of three hours and then another two to three hours of training to finish off the day. On top of this physically taxing schedule, Warsylewicz finds the time to take correspondence courses through Athabasca University.
Warsylewicz says that training for Whistler next year is pretty similar to what his training for Torino was like in 2006 with one major difference. “Now I’m four years older and I kind of know what to expect, in terms of the Olympics. So I think I’m a little more experienced that way...I know what I need to be my best.”
If he skates his best Warsylewicz says he has a good shot at making the 2010 Olympic team, but doesn’t want to make any predictions quite yet. “The competition is always tight. You can’t have a bad race and expect that you’ll make the team.”
Since the 2010 Olympics are being held in Canada, the Canadian government has increased its funding for its amateur athletes. Both Simister and Warsylewicz are receiving government funding by way of carding, which means the higher they are ranked, the more funding they will receive. Amateur athletes in Canada also receive money though a newly-created program called Own The Podium (OTP). “As amateur athletes leading up to this Olympics we’re sitting pretty good. I think the best ever that any amateur athlete in Canada has ever done,” said Warsylewicz.