British Columbia

Training ground: Finding the Olympians of tomorrow in Metro Vancouver

Coaches are travelling across the country to check out the skills of young athletes and steer the best toward key sports.

Richmond Oval hosts one of a series of events to assess young athletes' potential

Hundreds of young athletes gathered at the Richmond Olympic Oval Saturday to test their skills at the Training Ground, a program that's travelling across Canada. (Dillon Hodgin/ CBC News)

Hana Anderson started rowing with the Delta Deas Rowing Club in Grade 8 and now dreams of competing at the highest level.

"The Olympics is the peak for me. That's where I want to go for sure," said 17-year-old Anderson.

She was one of the hundreds of young athletes testing their skills Saturday at the Richmond Olympic Oval with the RBC Training Ground, a program that identifies future Olympians and pairs them with sports they may never have considered. 

Hana Anderson dreams of competing at the Olympics as a rower. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC News)

The athletes are put through four skill-testing stations to assess their strength, speed, power and endurance.

"[It's a chance] to get discovered, to see what I can do and see if there are any other sports I could be good at," said Anderson.

Pairing athletes with sports

The Training Ground, now in its fourth year, travels across Canada, visiting 33 different cities to host qualifying events.

"We have, in Canada, the best athletes in the world," said Kurt Innes, sport technical lead for the Training Ground.

"We just need more people to be aware of these smaller niche type sports."

Hana Anderson pushes herself to the limits during a test exercise at the Training Ground. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC News)

Coaches and representatives from rowing, athletics, canoe, kayak, rugby, cycling, speed skating, freestyle and snowboard attend the sessions.

After the event, coaches will select certain athletes to attend sport-specific training.

Eventually, the top 100 athletes will be invited to a national final in Calgary where they will have the chance to receive life-changing funding.

"We're a big country geographically, but population-wise we're not that big. So we need every single human resource to be funneled into where they can be best utilized," said Innes. 

'You really have to have a passion'

For the athletes, funding represents a potential reward for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice that go into their training.

Anderson says it takes a lot of discipline to stay committed, especially as a student.

"You really have to have ... the drive and passion to go to practice every day and work your hardest," she said.

"And it all, hopefully, pays out in the end."

Parents proudly watching from the bleachers often share the dream.

Hana's mother Heather Andersen says it's hard not to imagine her daughter one day standing on the podium.

Hana's mother, Heather Anderson, proudly watches her daughter compete from the bleachers. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC News)

But she says she also tries to keep Hana grounded in reality.

"She loves it. She's having fun. She's being kept busy, She's active ... all those really positive aspects to sports," said Heather Anderson.

"But, of course, there's that dream. We'd love it if they made it that far."

'I've never dedicated myself to a single sport'

While Hana has already discovered her passion for rowing, other athletes are still looking for a sport where they feel they belong.

Seventeen-year-old Jedd Li has spent many years bouncing from sport to sport, waiting for something to click.

"I've never really dedicated myself or committed myself to a single sport," said Li.

Jedd Li has never found a sport where he can fully commit himself. He hopes the Training Ground will pair him with a new sport where he feels he belongs. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC News)

He hopes the Training Ground will give him the push he needs.

"Having someone tell me that I'm capable or that I have some strengths that could possibly be beneficial in one sport, it could really motivate me to commit to something and stick with it," he said.

The next qualifier will take place at the Langley Events Centre on April 28.

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