Celebration of excellence

GLEN DAWKINS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:19 AM ET

This weekend, Manitobans will get a unique opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the top athletes in the country. Kim Browning hopes that it will inspire young Manitobans to pursue their own Olympic dreams.

"It's a great chance for our kids to get motivated and get inspired by some great role models," said the Sport Manitoba marketing director, one of the organizers of this weekend's celebration of sporting excellence in conjunction with the 34th annual Canadian Sport Awards presentation at the University of Manitoba's Investors Group Athletic Centre.

This weekend marks the first time that the national awards program has been held outside of Ottawa or Toronto. As well, Manitoba's top youth athletes and teams will be honoured alongside Canada's best as the Sport Manitoba Sport Awards are presented at the same time.

"We firmly believe that Manitoba has more Cindys out there and they're just waiting to be discovered," said Browning.

Among the finalists for the Canadian Sport Awards is Winnipeg speed skater and five-time 2006 Olympic medallist Cindy Klassen. She's in the running for her second consecutive Female Athlete of the Year award. Klassen will also be presented with the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's outstanding athlete for 2006 at a Breakfast of Champions tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

"We've got a great partner in Sport Manitoba and the University of Manitoba working together in a consortium to provide a great platform for the Canadian Sport Awards and also for Winnipeggers to experience our Canadian amateur sporting heroes," said Doug MacQuarrie, executive director of the True Sport Foundation which manages the Canadian Sport Awards.

The festivities will kick off today with a luncheon honouring Sport Manitoba's top volunteers, officials and administrators. This evening, the Awards Gala will be held to recognize Canadian Sport Awards and Sport Manitoba Awards winners at the Investors Group Athletic Centre.

An open house and sport festival will be held tomorrow from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., at the U of M's Sport and Active Living Centre featuring interactive sport exhibits on a wide range of sports.

Several of the finalists from the Awards Gala will be present including Klassen, who is scheduled to appear at 11 a.m. As well, a celebrity/media wheelchair basketball game will be held at 1 p.m., involving members of Canada's Olympic wheelchair basketball team.

All of the activities are open to the public and free of charge including the Awards Gala, which is normally semi-formal affair. Parking is free except for 24-hour reserved parking spots.

"What they were looking for is not just another awards show but instead a sport festival over a weekend," said Browning. "That's what this has become.

"The opportunity to combine with the Canadian Sports Awards is something that Sport Manitoba and the Sport Manitoba Sport Awards have embraced and we've returned that in kind," said MacQuarrie. "It's been a very positive partnership."


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