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Athletes' passion palpable (3 photos)

Young athletes living the dream at Ontario Winter Games

Not even a month after the world’s best athletes marched into the Olympic opening ceremonies, Ontario’s best had their time in the spotlight in Orillia.

Olympic thoughts were on the minds of some of those who streamed into Couchiching Beach Park for Thursday’s opening ceremonies to officially launch the Orillia 2018 Ontario Winter Games.

“It makes you feel special, and that someday you’ll be doing it at the Olympics,” said Madi Sunseth, of Cambridge.

The 16-year-old ringette player — whose Southern Region team walloped its opponents Thursday in the first ringette match of the games — was basking in the spotlight, along with teammate Emma Croswell, 16.

“There’s a lot of people and a lot of good spirit here,” Croswell said.

While no Orillia-area athletes are on the ringette roster this year, there are still more than 100 people taking part in the sport during these games, and it’s something people should be excited about, according to Croswell.

”It’s a good team sport. You have to always work with your team.”

One team that is making history, win or lose, is that of Jayden King and Caitlyn Evely. They are among the first field of mixed doubles curling teams to be taking part in the Ontario Winter Games.

“It’s something you don’t get to do every day,” King, 15, said of competing in the games. “It’s the goal of a lot of curlers.”

Just as thrilled for them was Jennifer Cuddie, who coaches them out of the London Curling Club.

“It’s an exciting time for us all in this province,” she said of the popularity of mixed doubles curling, especially after it made its Olympic debut last month in South Korea.

Cuddie hopes that popularity leads more young people to take up the sport.

Mixed doubles curling isn’t the only intriguing discipline on display at the games. Toronto’s Dawson Drew and Aoibheann Birch, both 15, have their sights set on target-shooting gold.

“I always found it cool, and it helps me focus,” said Drew, who has been target shooting for about three years.

“It’s different than a lot of other sports,” Birch added, “and I get an experience not a lot of others do.”

Being cheered on while entering the park Thursday “was a little overwhelming, but a really cool experience,” said Birch, who has been target shooting for less than a year.

They will put their skills to the test Friday and Saturday at the Rama MASK.

Check out orillia2018.ca for a complete schedule of events.