Three New Brunswickers head to Beijing Games

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An Olympic dream is coming true for a short-track speed skater from Moncton.

Courtney Sarault is one of just three New Brunswickers known to be going to the Beijing games.

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“I feel super honoured to represent my country,” Sarault said in a phone interview Friday, adding she hopes to make Canadians proud.

“It’s been a crazy journey getting to this point,” she said. 

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The 21-year-old has been working toward this goal since Vancouver 2010, said her mom.

Rhonda Sarault remembers watching the Canadian speed skaters, including Marianne St-Gelais, with her daughter and being “mesmerized.”

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“It just seemed so cool,” Courtney said, “to see all the girls do this sport — these powerful women, and men, too.”

The Saraults didn’t know anything about speed skating at the time, said Rhonda.

Dad, Yves, and brother, Chris, were into hockey — which Courtney has also played competitively. 

But she found her passion in speed skating with the Codiac Cyclones club, and her Olympic dream stayed alive.

Courtney said her results gave her confidence that it was only a matter of time before she’d get there.

According to her Speed Skating Canada biography, Courtney “had her breakout moment” at the 2018 world junior championships, where she finished second. And she “had a great start” this season, finishing the World Cup circuit ranked third in the 1,500 metres.

“I definitely feel I have developed a lot in the last couple of years,” she said.

Three New Brunswickers head to Beijing Games
© Getty Images Courtney Sarault leads a 1000-metre heat during World Cup competition in October.

Rhonda said she’s amazed by her daughter’s dedication, determination, commitment and sacrifice.

Courtney left home at a young age for training, went back and forth between Moncton and Montreal to finish school and hasn’t been able to make it home for the past two Christmases.

During the pandemic, she and her national teammates have had to constantly adapt their training regimen to pandemic lockdown measures. 

“She wanted to do this and we helped her to do what she wanted,” said Rhonda. “I’m really excited for her and happy that she’s able to reach this goal.”

The team leaves Tuesday for Vancouver and the next morning for Beijing, where the opening ceremony for the 2022 Olympics will be held Feb. 4.

“I’m glad I get a chance to live this experience,” Courtney said.

She’s “really excited to get everything started,” but “trying not to let too many emotions” hit her at once. 

She’s focused on a training schedule designed to hopefully allow her to peak during the competition.

No spectators are allowed at the Olympics, but Rhonda is heading to Switzerland to be with her husband to watch the action on live streams. He works as a hockey coach in Langnau in Switzerland.

“If it’s the middle of the night I’m going to be watching and cheering her on,” said Rhonda. “It’s super exciting and fun to watch her.

“You never know what’s going to happen when she’s on the ice”

New Brunswicker competing for Australia

According to the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic, the only other New Brunswicker competing at the Beijing Olympics is Brendan Corey.

He’s also a speed skater, and he and Sarault both trained together in Fredericton at one point.

But he’ll be representing Australia.

Corey came up through speed-skating programs in New Brunswick and did a stint with the Canadian national team, said Meaghan Donahue Wies, athlete services and game plan manager.

But he has dual citizenship and decided to go out for the Australian team, which he officially made this week.

There are still some Canadian team announcements to come, said Donahue Wies, but the Sport Centre is not anticipating any other New Brunswickers will be on the player rosters.

Men’s hockey mental performance coach

There will be one New Brunswicker working behind the scenes, however, with the Canadian men’s hockey team.

Ryan Hamilton is a mental performance coach and associate professor of psychology from UNB in Fredericton, whose experience includes helping the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning to Stanley Cup victories for the past two years.

Hamilton said he’s excited to work with this Canadian team, which will be much different from those that have competed in recent Olympics.

Because of the pandemic, the NHL decided in November that none of its players would take part.

That opened up opportunities for many others.

Players range in age from 18 to 38, said Hamilton, and are coming from the American Hockey League, the NCAA, the Canadian Hockey League, the Swedish Elite League, German and Russian Leagues and the KHL.

He described many of them as “journeymen,” who at some point had their NHL dreams dashed but kept on playing.

“One of the things I really love about the group,” he said, “is they never knew this opportunity was going to come, but they gave themselves a chance at it because they stayed connected to the sport that they loved and kept bringing passion to it.”

Hamilton doesn’t think anyone on the team will need to be motivated to “play their hearts out.”

“There’s something very special about putting on a Team Canada uniform that I think will not be lost on these players.”

But they may need a bit of help to deal with jitters and pressure.

“When it comes to hockey, our country expects more than participation,” said Hamilton.

Three New Brunswickers head to Beijing Games
© Bruce Bennett/Getty Images The Tampa Bay Lightning pose with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game 5 in July.

And there are some unique pressures heading into this competition, such as questions about whether they should even be going given the Omicron surge and in light of concerns about human rights abuses by the Chinese government.

Hamilton will try to teach and model mental skills like meditation, setting daily goals, doing daily gratitude exercises, staying connected with loved ones, good sleep hygiene, maintaining humility and making sacrifices for one another.

He also sees his role as helping the team focus on what they can control to improve and be the best they can every day.

“And if that version of us is capable of winning a gold medal, well, then we’ll go and do it.”

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