Vernon Freestyle Team’s Ty Schulte competes at the Big Air Competition at Silver Star Saturday where he claimed a B.C. Winter Games silver medal.

Vernon Freestyle Team’s Ty Schulte competes at the Big Air Competition at Silver Star Saturday where he claimed a B.C. Winter Games silver medal.

Vernon shines at B.C. Games

Greater Vernon rocked the 2012 B.C. Winter Games, staging what is being declared the best Games ever.

Greater Vernon rocked the 2012 B.C. Winter Games, staging what is being declared the best Games ever.

Four days of intense competition, incredible athletic ability and an overwhelming Games spirit were wrapped up and celebrated Sunday.

“Without a question, these are the best B.C. Winter Games that have ever been held,” Kelly Mann, president and CEO of the B.C. Games Society told Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster prior to the closing ceremonies at the Wesbild Centre.

The Thompson-Okanagan zone secured 80 medals, ranking second in medal standings just behind Vancouver-Squamish with 81.

Among those claiming gold medals were Vernon’s Eric Byram (biathlon), Connie Kapak (speed skating) and Jake Ondrik (freestyle skiing). The Thompson-Okanagan also took the top podium position in girls curling, karate and speed skating.

Athletes, both those proudly wearing medals and even those heading home empty-handed, were beaming as they left with some unbelievable memories.

But no smile could beat that of Vancouver-Squamish biathlete Hunter Sones, who was presented the W.R. Bennett Award for Athletic Excellence.

“Wow,” said the speechless 13-year-old, donning the prestigious award which includes a $2,500 scholarship.

Sones, from Garibaldi Highlands, has been participating in biathlon since the age of five and was a three-time bronze medallist at the Games.

Sones is just one the 1,145 athletes from across B.C., 292 coaches and 160 officials who took part in the 15 different sports.

Akbal Mund, president of the local Games committee, was blown away by the athletes’ passion and desire to never give up.

“That’s what these games are all about,” said Mund, who also read out a few letters from athletes thanking Greater Vernon for hosting such a fabulous event.

“We will remember the times we had here forever,” an official from Parksville wrote in a thank you letter. “It wouldn’t have been possible without you.”

So while the athletes are the real stars of the Games, Greater Vernon was also shining throughout the event.

“It’s a nice community, nice people,” said 14-year-old Cassandra Wakefield, with the silver-medal Vancouver-Squamish girls hockey team.

Wakefield and her fellow teammates appreciated all the work the 2,400 volunteers put in, noting that they were always pleasant and accommodating.

But Vernon School District Superintendent Bev Rundell did apologize for the sleeping arrangements.

“You are very courageous for sleeping on those mats and being at the height of your athletic ability,” she said.

Yet Erika LeBlanc, 15, girls hockey player from Brackendale, said the mats weren’t as terrible as some made them out to be.

“They weren’t actually that bad,” said LeBlanc, just before boarding her bus to return home.

From the 2,400 volunteers who worked tirelessly behind the scenes, to the committee who has spent the last two years preparing for the event, the Games would not have been possible without them, said Foster.

“It’s a huge, huge undertaking,” said Foster. “It’s a lot of work for a very short time.

“Congratulations to the committee on staging the best B.C. Winter Games ever.”

Bill McNanora, president of the Surrey 2012 Summer Games, was also on hand at Sunday’s ceremonies to accept the B.C. Games flag.

Although a little jealous, Mund wished Surrey well as he passed on the flag and the torch slowly began to burn out in Vernon.

For more Games coverage check out the Sports section on A24 and A25. For full Games results visit www.2012bcwintergames.ca.