The North Shore continues to be a hotbed of elite athletics, as 14 athletes with strong ties to North Vancouver or West Vancouver will be going for gold as they represent Canada at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, running July 23-Aug. 8.
The North Shore 14 are part of the Canadian delegation of 317 athletes – the largest contingent since Los Angeles in 1984 – and 131 coaches who will be taking part in the Games, which were delayed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Included on the list are a pair of North Vancouver sport climbers – the first two athletes to ever represent Canada at the Games as the sport makes its Olympic debut – along with three track and field athletes, three rowers, one windsurfer, one field hockey player, one BMX racer, one track cyclist, one gymnast and one rugby sevens player.
Here are the 14 local links headed to Tokyo:
Sean McColl, sport climbing
Event schedule: Qualification, Tuesday, Aug. 3. Finals, Thursday Aug. 5.
North Vancouver native Sean McColl is a rock star in the climbing world. He is the first Canadian ever to be crowned Youth World Champion, earning that honour five times. He has won 34 medals on the senior World Cup circuit, and was crowned world champion in the combined climbing event – blending the disciplines of lead, bouldering and speed – four times (2009, 2012, 2014, and 2016).
He’s even taken his talents to the reality TV world where he has proven to be one of the most dynamic performers in the history of the show American Ninja Warrior. Sport climbing makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, and McColl has a chance to be one of the first ever athletes to climb onto the podium in the sport.
Alannah Yip, sport climbing
Schedule: Qualification, Wednesday, Aug. 4. Finals, Friday, Aug. 6.
One of the neatest North Shore sports stories emerging out of the Games is the fact that Canada’s two representatives in climbing as the sport makes its Olympic debut happen to be lifelong family friends. Yip and McColl have grown up together, and now are going for gold together. Yip, another North Vancouver native, earned an Olympic berth in thrilling fashion, winning her last chance qualifier in 2020. She hasn’t competed since then due to COVID-19 restrictions, but she’s excited about getting a chance to climb into the global spotlight.
“I’m really, really excited," Yip told the North Shore News. "I never would have imagined that this would happen when I was a youth starting to climb. It's amazing to reflect back on the journey and how I've grown and how the sport has grown at the same time. And I just hope I can do my country proud.”
Nikola Girke, windsurfing
Schedule: Race days (weather permitting), July 25, 26, 28, 29. Medal race, July 31.
West Vancouver’s Nikola Girke has the distinction of being the most experienced Canadian Olympian heading to Tokyo. She’s the oldest female athlete on the team at age 43, and she’s the only Canadian competing in the Summer Games for a fifth time. Her Olympic journey has been a remarkable one, spanning nearly 20 years and three different events.
She’s been chasing those Olympic rings since 2004, when she made her debut sailing in the women’s two-person dinghy (470) class in Greece. She then switched to windsurfing for the London Games and racked up a top-10 finish. When windsurfing was subsequently dropped from the Olympic program she switched back to sailing, and took on the polluted waters of the Rio 2016 course in the mixed Nacra 17 class, a battle she and her sailing partner Luke Ramsey ultimately lost after Ramsey became ill.
Now she’s back for one final shot in her preferred sport, windsurfing, which was added back to the Olympic program for 2020. And so Girke is set to accomplish something few in the world have ever done: compete in her fifth Olympic Games.
Georgia Simmerling, track cycling team pursuit
Schedule: Qualifying, Monday, Aug. 2. Heats and finals, Tuesday, Aug. 3.
Simmerling’s astounding Olympic career continues with her second appearance in track cycling following a bronze-medal showing in team pursuit at the Rio Games in 2016. Prior to that, the West Vancouver native had already written some amazing chapters in her Olympic story, competing in alpine skiing in the Vancouver 2010 Games and then switching to ski cross for the 2014 Winter Olympics, where she finished 14th.
She then made an unprecedented switch to track cycling and made history in 2016, becoming the first Canadian athlete to compete in three different Olympics in three different sports. Simmerling was all set to compete in her fourth Olympic Games in 2018 in South Korea but her ski cross dreams were dashed in a nasty crash in her final World Cup race before the Games. Simmerling broke both her legs after falling hard in the semifinals of an event held at Nakiska in Alberta. She has since retired from competitive skiing, but will be looking to race back onto the podium this year in Tokyo, continuing one of the most remarkable Olympic careers in Canadian history.
She is one of only two Canadian athletes competing in Tokyo this year who has taken part in the Winter Olympics.
Lindsey Butterworth, athletics, 800-m race
Schedule: Heats, Friday July 30. Semifinal Saturday, July 31. Final, Tuesday Aug. 3.
North Vancouver’s Lindsey Butterworth, a 28-year-old Handsworth grad, came through in a huge way at the Canadian Olympic trials held in late June in Montreal. Butterworth ran the race of her life, clocking an 800-m time of 1:59.19 to set a personal best while breaking the two-minute barrier for the first time in her life. She also beat the Olympic standard time of 1:59.50 after coming agonizing close to that time on several occasions over the past couple of years.
This will be the first Olympic appearance for Butterworth, brandishing an already impressive resume that includes a fifth-place showing at the 2019 Pan Am Games and two appearances at the world championships, including a ninth-place finish in 2019.
“I’m going to the Olympics!” Butterworth wrote on her Instagram account after getting the call from Athletics Canada. “It’s taken a couple days to let those words sink in but I am so excited to represent Canada in Tokyo.”
Natasha Wodak, athletics, marathon
Schedule: Final, Saturday Aug. 7
The 39-year-old Wodak grew up in Surrey and has lived in Port Moody and Vancouver but has called North Vancouver home for the past several years. She’s been racing since she was 10 years old but her career hit high gear in 2015, when she set the Canadian record in the 10,000-m race. She’s been picking up speed ever since. She competed in the 10,000-m race in the Rio Olympics in 2016, the world championships in 2015, ’17 and ’19, and the Pan American Games in 2015 and 2019, including a gold medal win at the 2019 Pan Ams in Lima, Peru.
In 2020, in just the second marathon of her career – and her first in more than seven years – Wodak became the second-fastest female marathoner in Canadian history. That year she also set the Canadian record in the half-marathon, becoming the first Canadian woman to break the 70-minute mark, although her record was broken just three weeks later.
She now owns two of the top three Canadian times all-time at the half-marathon distance.
Natalia Hawthorn, athletics, 1,500-m race
Schedule: Heats, Monday, Aug. 2. Semifinal, Wednesday Aug. 4. Final Friday, Aug. 6.
Hawthorn is peaking at the right time, having set personal bests to meet the Olympic qualifying standard for both the 1,500-m and 5,000-m races this year. The 26-year-old native of Bracebridge, Ont., graduated from the University of British Columbia and now lives in North Vancouver.
She won gold in 5,000 m and finished fourth in 1,500 m at the Canada Games in 2017, and made her senior international debut at the 2019 world cross-country championships.
Harry Jones, rugby sevens
Schedule: Monday, July 26, vs. Great Britain and Fiji. Tuesday, July 27 vs. Japan and quarterfinals. Wednesday July 28, placing and medal games.
West Vancouver’s Harry Jones is a mainstay with the national rugby sevens team, sharing captain’s duties with Nathan Hirayama.
Since joining the national team in 2012 he has played in two Commonwealth Games and two Pan American Games, helping Canada win gold at the 2015 Pan Ams in Toronto – his try in the dying seconds of the game gave Canada the win. He also helped Canada win its first ever Sevens Series tournament in 2017, and played a big role as Canada went undefeated at the RAN Sevens in the Cayman Islands in 2019 to secure a berth in the Tokyo Olympics.
Rugby sevens debuted as an Olympic sport in 2016, and this will be the first appearance for the Canadian men.
Fin Boothroyd, field hockey
Schedule: Saturday, July 24, vs. Germany. Monday, July 26, vs. Great Britain. Tuesday, July 27 vs. the Netherlands. Thursday, July 29 vs. Belgium. Friday, July 30, vs. South Africa. Playoffs, Aug. 1, 3, 5.
Boothroyd, a 22-year-old West Vancouver native, has helped Canada earn some important victories since joining the national team in 2019, just a few weeks after his 20th birthday.
It took a few moments for Boothroyd to register that he’d actually been added to the senior national team when he got the call-up.
“It’s funny because, for forever, I’ve been called ‘Fin’ but my legal name is John Boothroyd,” he said in a Field Hockey Canada release. “So my name on the list was ‘John’ and I had to do a double take like, ‘holy smokes, that’s me.’”
He was part of the squad that scored a dramatic series win over Ireland at Rutledge Field in West Van to earn a spot in the Tokyo Games. His grandfather, Lawrence “Boots” Boothroyd, co-founded the West Vancouver Field Hockey Club, which has grown to become the largest field hockey club in North America.
Shallon Olsen, artistic gymnastics
Schedule: Qualification, Sunday, July 25. Team final, Tuesday July 27. All-around final, Thursday, July 29. Event finals, Aug. 1-3.
Olsen was born in Vancouver, grew up in Surrey and attended high school in Coquitlam, but she now calls North Vancouver home and trains at Flicka Gymnastics with coach Dorina Stan. She competed in the Rio Olympics in 2016, making the vault final, and has since claimed three Commonwealth Games medals, two Pan American Games medals, and a silver in vault at the 2018 world championships. Her specialty is vault, and she’ll be hoping to spring onto the podium in Tokyo when the finals are held Sunday, Aug. 1.
James Palmer, BMX racing
Schedule: Quarterfinals, Thursday July 29. Semifinals and finals, Friday July 30.
The North Vancouver native has been racing on the World Cup circuit since 2014 and won his first Canadian title in 2019, also representing Canada at the Pan American Games that same year, finishing fifth, less than a second off the podium. He also raced at the word championships every year from 2014 to 2019, his best finish coming in 2017 when he placed 16th, just missing a berth in the final after crashing while trying to make a pass in the semifinals.
Palmer co-hosts a weekly BMX podcast with fellow Team Canada racer Tory Nyhaug.
Madison Mailey & Andrea Proske, rowing women’s eights
Schedule: Heats Sunday, July 25. Repechage Wednesday, July 28. Final Friday, July 30
Mailey and Proske, both making their Olympic debuts, are two members of the powerhouse Canadian women’s eight team that will be gunning for a podium spot. The eights won silver in London in 2012 and finished fifth in Rio in 2016.
Mailey is a 24-year-old native of Lions Bay who joined the national program in 2017, helping the team win back-to-back gold medals in women’s eight at the 2017 and 2018 World Rowing U23 championships. She bumped up to the senior team for the 2018 worlds, helping the eights claim silver.
Proske was born in North Vancouver, raised in Langley and now lives in Victoria. She first represented Canada in international competition in 2018, teaming with Gabrielle Smith two win a World Cup silver in double sculls. She fist made the national team in 2016 at age 30 after years as a club rower.
Kai Langerfeld, rowing men’s pair
Schedule: Heats, Saturday, July 24. Repechage Sunday, July 25. Semifinal, Tuesday, July 27. Final, Thursday, July 29.
North Vancouver native Kai Langerfeld has been a solid presence on the national rowing team since winning silver in both the men’s eight and four at the Pan Am Games in 2011. He turned both of those results golden at the 2015 Pan Ams in Toronto. Langerfeld made his Olympic debut in 2016, helping the coxless four team finish sixth.
The son of an Olympic rower, Langerfeld was born in North Van, went to high school in Parksville and now lives in Victoria. He reportedly hated rowing when he first tried it at age 13, and didn’t give it another try until he was 21 years old.