Calgary principal cheers on 22 former students competing in Olympics

Calgary is the training ground for several Olympic sports, so it's not uncommon for Calgarians to know an Olympian or two — but Ken Weipert knows 22 of them.

Ken Weipert is in charge of the city's National Sport School, a Grade 9-12 facility for elite athletes

With 22 alumni competing, including Brooke Apshkrum, who finished 13th in women's luge, National Sport School principal Ken Weipert is watching this year's Olympics in Pyeongchang with keen interest. (Submitted by Ken Weipert)

Calgary is the training ground for several Olympic sports, so it's not uncommon for Calgarians to know an Olympian or two.

But Ken Weipert knows 22 of them.

The principal of the National Sport School in Calgary — a high school for elite athletes at Winsport — is watching this year's Olympics with intense interest, having helped shape the early careers of nearly two dozen members of Team Canada.

One of Weipert's former students, Brooke Apshkrum — who graduated last year and was the class valedictorian — finished 13th in the women's luge on Tuesday.

Fellow Calgary athlete Alex Gough, also a graduate of National Sport School but before Weipert arrived seven years ago, won bronze in the same event, Canada's first-ever medal in singles luge.

"We're watching really closely because so many of the staff and students know a lot of the Olympians who are competing. It's very exciting times for us," he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"It's always a bit of a challenge to stay focused in these couple of weeks [while the Olympics are on]. But it's also an opportunity to really share some of the stories and talk about the athletes as we start to see them on TV, and share some of the experiences we had with them when they were students, and talk about their success and how they did in school and some of the characteristics we think really set them up for success as an athlete."

Weipert said the National Sport School operates "a lot like a regular school" — but with some differences.

National Sport School graduate Alex Gough reacts after her first run in the women's luge at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. Gough won bronze for Canada in the event. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"The staff we have are absolutely fantastic and are really accessible to students inside and outside of school. They are really comfortable with all the technologies available today to help students when they're travelling and when they're away," he said.

"As you can imagine, student athletes miss a lot of school for training and competitions, then all the other support pieces that go along with it, medical appointments and training and physiotherapy."

Most of the 183 students also have individual plans for courses, allowing them to focus fully on training.

"It does require the athletes have some self direction and drive, especially as they move up into the older grades. The curriculum starts to get fairly difficult and it moves at a quick pace," he said.

The Grade 9-12 school, which is public and operates under the Calgary Board of Education, started in 1994. Students must apply to be accepted.

"We rely on the provincial and national sport organizations to give us a sense of where they're at as an athlete in terms of their development. Then there's a variety of fitness tests and those things to help us narrow down the search to make sure we're supporting the athletes who need us most," said Weipert.

The 22 National Sport School alumni competing at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics are:

  • Brooke Apshkrum, luge.
  • Alex Gough, luge.
  • Kimberley McRae, luge.
  • Mitchell Malyk, luge.
  • Sam Edney, luge.
  • Justin Snith, doubles luge.
  • Tristan Walker, doubles luge.
  • Jocelyn Larocque, hockey.
  • Jordan Belchos, long track speed skating.
  • Brianne Tutt, long track speed skating.
  • Gilmore Junio, long track speed skating.
  • Kaylin Irvine, long track speed skating.
  • Alexandra Ianculescu, long track speed skating (Romania).
  • Noah Bowman, freestyle skiing halfpipe.
  • Kaillie Humphries, boblseigh.
  • Erik Read, alpine skiing.
  • Trevor Philp, alpine skiing.
  • Scott Gow, biathlon.
  • Christian Gow, biathlon.
  • Brady Leman, ski cross.
  • MacKenzie Boyd-Clowes, ski jumping.
  • Brooke Voigt, snowboard slopestyle.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener