FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION – Earlier this year, Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes and Matthew Soukup helped make Canadian ski jumping history.
The duo, along with teammates, Abigail Strate and Alexanderia Loutitt, captured bronze at this year’s Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, the first medal of any kind for Canada in an Olympic ski jumping competition.
On Monday they journeyed to Fort William First Nation Arena to share their story with school children, encouraging them to follow their dreams despite any obstacles that might present themselves – like the lack of funding their sport has received recently from the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Soukup, who trains in Slovenia because of a lack of facilities in Canada, said they’re also hoping to create more local interest in ski jumping and support the efforts of another former Olympian, Fort William First Nation’s Steve Collins, who is trying to revitalize the sport at ski hills across the country.
The 24-year-old Calgary native said they went to Beijing with an eye on the mixed ski jumping event, one they had an inkling they could do well at.
They had no idea they’d wind up on the podium.
“I think we surpassed all expectations. It was a one-of-a-kind event. It’s unbelievable, still unbelievable,” Soukup said.
Canada has a long history with ski jumping, but never found success at the Olympics. Collins winning a World Cup event in Finland in 1980, finishing third in the Lou Marsh Trophy voting behind Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky.
It made the Olympic win that much more special, Soukup said, knowing how much effort Canada’s ski jumping trailblazers put in to make the 2022 Olympic dream a reality.
“It means everything,” Soukup said. “There are those in the ski jumping community that know how much this means for us. It’s an absolute honour and the medal is definitely theirs as well. It’s shared among the whole community.”
Boyd-Clowes, a four-time Olympian, anchored Team Canada, soaring just far enough and sticking the landing to earn the points needed to surpass the Russians and take third place.
“I knew the hill well enough that I had the confidence just to let go and trust in myself. I kind of knew it was going to be enough. I kind of had that feeling it was going to be enough and it all worked out,” he said.
Their message resonated with Collins, who represented Canada at the Olympics in 1980, 1984 and 1988.
Collins, who also won World Cup silver at Thunder Bay’s Big Thunder in 1981, said without athletes like Boyd-Clowes and Soukup, there are no sporting dreams for children, which is why he’s trying to bring the sport back to Thunder Bay.
But it can’t be him alone, he said.
“It was just a dream come true,” he said of Team Canada’s win. “These kids here, they didn’t have the support, with Canada behind their back. They fundraised for all their own travel. It’s incredible how hard that must have been, let alone to compete at that level.
“(Canada) has to step it up for the athletes and Team Canada, for sure. It was a downfall when they closed Big Thunder. It was disappointing the money they put into the world championships and then shut it down and killed all the dreams for Canadians and younger children.”
Big Thunder closed shortly after the 1995 World Nordic Games and efforts to reopen it have routinely been rebuffed by the province.