Four speed skating athletes – short trackers Courtney Charlong (NB) and Akutaq Williamson-Bathory (NU), as well as long trackers Sofia Bieber (MB) and Luca Veeman (SK) – had the privilege of carrying their respective provincial or territorial flag into the Opening Ceremony of the 2023 Canada Winter Games on Saturday night.

Combining grand pageantry with authentic “Island” stories, it was a night to remember at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown as over 300 performers celebrated the landmarks and the unique charm and character of the communities that make up Prince Edward Island during an Opening Ceremony that brought a capacity crowd to its feet.

Leading her province into the largest multi-sport event in the country is a unique honour that Courtney Charlong, a 17-year-old up-and-coming skater from Campbellton, was extremely grateful to have.

“Carrying the flag for New Brunswick felt great, like a dream come true. It’s not everyone that gets the opportunity to be a flag bearer and I’m super grateful. I had a blast yesterday. The opening ceremonies were awesome and hearing everybody cheering and screaming really made me happy.”

Courtney Charlong

Courtney Charlong

The overwhelming sense of gratitude was also echoed by Akutaq Williamson-Bathory, a 17-year-old skater from Iqaluit that recently won three gold ulus at the 2023 Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo.

“It felt so empowering to be selected to walk my territory into the Games. I was speechless when I found out, I was just filled with so much joy. It was an incredible moment walking into the ceremony and seeing everyone cheering us on. And it was very cool to meet the other flag bearers and see speed skating so well represented.”

Akutaq Williamson-Bathory (NU)

Akutaq Williamson-Bathory

While they may be representing prairie rivals this week at the Emera Oval in Halifax, Saskatoon’s Luca Veeman and Winnipeg’s Sofia Bieber – who were recently teammates at the ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships in Germany – were both equally honoured to walk out leading their respective provinces yesterday.

The reigning 2023 Canadian Junior Long Track Champion, Bieber was announced as flag bearer while she was competing with the national team in Inzell.

“I was honored to be nominated as a flag bearer and it was an amazing experience to lead out Manitoba.”

Sofia Bieber

Sofia Bieber

It was also a special experience for multi-sport athlete Veeman, who participated in road cycling at the 2022 Canada Summer Games in Niagara and is in his second year as a recipient of RBC Training Ground funding.

“When I found out I was selected, I was super excited and honored. After being part of the Canada Games’ closing ceremonies in Niagara 2022, it was fun and an honor to walk into these games leading the pack and Team Sask couldn’t have done a better job of bringing the enthusiasm.”

Luca Veeman (SK)

Luca Veeman

Over 200 speed skating athletes, coaches and officials will suit up on the country’s biggest stage this week. The short track competition runs from February 20-25 at the new Eliyahu Wellness Centre in North Rustico, while long track, which is being hosted off-island in Halifax, goes from February 21-24.