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Tribute to Whistler athletes unveiled at Creekside

Eleven local skiers, snowboarders receive plaques in World Cup Square



On Wednesday, which was local’s day for Whistler-Blackcomb, the mountains paid tribute to some of our top local skiers and snowboarders with a ceremony at World Cup Square in Creekside.

Together, the 11 athletes chosen for recognition plaques have represented Canada in hundreds of World Cup events and dozens of Olympics.

"This was just a little project to recognize some of the athletes that have represented Whistler over the years, and to get the excitement up as we build towards 2010," said Kim Muller, the senior public relations officer for Whistler-Blackcomb.

The list of athletes recognized by the plaques are: downhiller Rob Boyd; freestyle mogul skier John Smart; snowboarder Maelle Ricker; snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, freestyle mogul skier Anna Fraser Sproule; snowboarder Darren Chalmers; freestyler mogul skier Stephanie Sloan, downhiller Steve Podborski; snowboarder Natasza Zurek, and alpine ski legend Nancy Greene Raine. Two of the athletes selected for the tribute, Ricker and Zurek, are still active in their sports, and are vying for spots in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

"It was definitely a nice surprise," said Rebagliati, who won a gold medal in the parallel giant slalom at Nagano in 1998.

"You can’t help but think what it might be like for my family in years to come here and to see a little plaque with my name on it. You can’t help but be honoured. A lot of people, great athletes, come through this town over the years, so to be recognized like this means a lot."

"It was obviously a huge honour," agreed John Smart, a two-time Olympian and recent inductee into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame. "We chose our lives because we love what we do, but to continue to be recognized throughout your life, much after you finish your career, it’s something you don’t expect. It’s a real bonus."

Smart has two young sons that will be skiing in a few years. Although they were too young to understand what the ceremony and the plaque are all about, "what they’re going to realize one day is that their dad did something to be proud of," said Smart.

"That’s how legacies work. And I think the Olympic legacy that we’re working towards, building the Olympics in Whistler, is going to influence a lot of young people to aim high. There’s a lot more space here for plaques."

Maelle Ricker, who is at home training with the Canadian Snowboard Team on the glacier, said the recognition gave her a boost.

"I was so honoured to have all these people here today, and to have a plaque beside Nancy Greene and Rob Boyd is pretty much a dream come true," she said.

It’s an important season for Ricker and the rest of the national snowboard team. Not only are the world championships in Whistler in January, this is also a qualifier year for the Olympics in 2006. She hopes to compete in both the halfpipe and snowboard cross events.

"It’s a huge year, so I’ll take any boost I can get," she said.

Anna Fraser Sproule, Darren Chalmers and Rob Boyd were also on hand at the plaque presentation ceremony, and FIS skier Ben Podborski represented his father.

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