Biathlete bearing the Bison

GLEN DAWKINS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of Team Manitoba biathlete and Canada Winter Games opening ceremonies flag bearer Megan Imrie, it appears the same goes for young aspiring athletes.

"I feel that it's very important to (be the flag bearer) and not only for Manitoba but for my community back home," said the Falcon Lake native, speaking yesterday from Nova Mesto, Czech Republic where she is competing on the European Cup circuit. "Everyone has supported me this year and for the next few years leading up to the (2010) Olympics. I'll be waving that flag for lots of people and lots of them are in Falcon Lake, my hometown."

Yesterday, Team Manitoba announced that Imrie will lead the province into the opening ceremonies for the Canada Winter Games, Feb. 23-March 10 in Whitehorse, Yukon. Manitoba will send a team of 325 athletes, coaches, managers and mission staff. It was also announced that two-time Olympic gold medallist and four-time world champion female hockey player Jennifer Botterill will serve as the honorary team captain for these games.

Botterill competed in ringette at the 1995 Canada Winter Games in Grand Prairie, Alta., helping Manitoba win silver.

"I couldn't be where I am right now without that kind of support (from her hometown)," said Imrie, who trains in Canmore, Alta. "I've seen a lot of athletes who are in my same situation having to move away from home to be able to get the best training possible. A lot of them are having to work part-time jobs and their training suffers because of it.

"I just had the best year so far of my career and I owe a lot of that to the support of my community and not having to deal with any of those financial stresses and that sort of thing."

Imrie was a bronze medallist as a member of the women's relay team at the 2003 games in Bathurst/Campbellton, N.B., and will be a gold-medal favourite in Whitehorse.

Despite being a community of only 300 residents, Falcon Lake has taken the sport of biathlon to heart, supporting Imrie and fellow Team Manitoba members Brooke Christie and Gabrielle Lord. Last year, the community raised $10,000 in six weeks to help pay for Imrie's training.

"That community has watched Megan grow up and they're watched Brooke and Gabby grow up," said Megan's mother Marg. "So they're pretty excited to see that these girls have got the drive, perseverance and the athletic ability to be competing for Canada and Manitoba."

Imrie, who turns 21 tomorrow, has been a member of the junior national team since 2001. Considered one of the top young female biathletes in the country, Imrie has represented Canada at the World Youth/Junior Championships four times. Earlier this month at the World Junior Championships in Martelli, Italy, she achieved her best international result with a 10th in the individual event.

According to chef de mission Ted Bigelow, Manitoba is aiming for 49 medals and to win the Centennial Cup as the most improved province for a fifth time overall and a third time at a Winter Games.

NATIONAL GYMNASTICS WEEK: Manitoba Gymnastics Association kicked off National Gymnastics Week with a pair of gymnastics competitions, last weekend.

Over 160 female gymnasts from throughout the province took part in a Girls Regional and Provincial Stream Invitational competition at the University of Manitoba, hosted by the Aerials Gymnastics Club.

Meanwhile, another 140 gymnasts were at the Springers Gymnastics Club for a Regional Stream Invitational.

GOLDEN BLADES: Manitoba speed skaters Shayla Heidinger and Steven Poole were big winners at last weekend's Canadian Age Class Long Track Mass Start Championships at the Susan Auch Oval.

Heidinger swept all four distances with wins in the 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m and 3,000m to finish first overall in the intermediate female event while Poole was first in the 500m, 1,000m and 3,000m to top the field in the intermediate male event. Poole also set a provincial record in the 3,000m, one of four records set on the weekend by Manitoba skaters.


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