Olympic Talent Search Comes To Barrie On April 15

Owen McKay Olympic Talent Search
Owen McKay at the RBC Training Ground national final in Ottawa. Photo courtesy of RBC Training Ground

The Canadian Olympic Committee is bringing its talent search, RBC Training Ground, to Barrie for the first time with a scouting event at Georgian College on April 15.

The free event will run from 10 a.m. to around 1 p.m. and is open to athletes ages 14 to 25. Since it launched eight years ago, the program has identified and funded over 1,600 athletes across a range of sports. At least 13 athletes from the program have already competed at the Olympics, seven of which have medalled. Sam Effah, program lead for RBC Training Ground and two-time Canadian running champion, has attended scouting events as an RBC Olympian, but this is his first year working on the management team to find and fund athletes with Olympic potential. 

“We have 12 national sport organizations that are looking to recruit athletes, so as an athlete, you want to come with an open mind, but you want to make sure that you’re ready to go,” Effah said. “We have a speed test, endurance test, power test and a strength test, so if you’re able to perform on those tests really well, you’ll have a better chance of being identified by a sport.”

The organizations are looking to recruit for boxing, canoeing/kayaking, climbing, wrestling, cycling, freestyle skiing, luge, rowing, rugby, speed skating, volleyball and triathlon. After registration, attendees will go through a series of measurements and tests to help coaches and talent scouts gauge their Olympic potential. 

Athlete Rian Lenarduzzi completes physical testing at an RBC Training Ground event. Photo courtesy of RBC Training Ground

Staff will measure metrics like height and weight before the athletes move on to the four testing stations. Following the event, participants can check their results online and see how they compare to competitors across the country.

Each organization has different benchmarks they’re looking for, Effah said, so Rugby Canada may be looking for athletes that excel at the speed test while Cycling Canada may be looking at elements like thigh measurements and the endurance test. Some athletes come with a sport in mind while others let the professionals guide them to the right team.

“You never know what sport you could get aligned with, so taking a chance, I think, is really important here because you could be aligned with something that you never knew you were good at,” Effah said. “You never know until you try, and I would really push anybody who’s on the fence to, at the very least, come out and see what happens.”

Owen McKay, a 15-year-old slalom kayaker from Huntsville, also urges locals to give it a shot. He applied to RBC Training Ground last year not knowing what to expect. He did his best in the qualifiers and tried not to stress about it, and it’s an approach he recommends to any other young athletes considering the scouting event.

Huntsville Paddler Owen McKay Named Finalist In Olympic Talent Search
Owen McKay. Photo courtesy of Owen McKay

“You have nothing to lose,” McKay said. “The worst that can happen is you don’t make the final, and if you don’t, then you haven’t really lost anything. The only thing you’ll be doing at the RBC Training Ground is gaining experience with good, fit people, and it’ll be good competition and a lot of fun.”

McKay first got into kayaking when a friend inspired him to try it in Grade 6. Talent and passion came together quickly, so just one year later, he was attending races in Europe with his coach Andy Parry from Muskoka Kayak School. 

From there, he continued to compete at higher levels and was selected by RBC Training Ground as one of 30 athletes to receive funding last year. The funding helps cover his kayaking costs, including transportation, accommodations, coaching fees and equipment. The program has also provided him with an accelerated path to the Olympics through a spot on Canada’s national team.

He’s currently preparing for a selection race in Alberta this May, hoping to qualify for the Junior World Championships in August. Along with his supporters in Muskoka, he wants to thank RBC Training Ground for helping him further his paddling career.

“I was just in Europe training, and they helped me a lot with that,” he said. “Next year, it’s possible that they’ll help me again, so it’s been really good because it’s allowed me to compete at a higher level than I would be competing at if I didn’t have the help from RBC Training Ground.”

While McKay is off training, another future Olympian from a nearby town will be making an appearance at the event on April 15. Barrie native Rian Lenarduzzi started as a volleyball player, but after attending an RBC scouting event, she’s now training with the national rowing team in British Columbia. Effah hopes that having a local will inspire people from the Simcoe-Muskoka area to give the program a try.

Rian Lenarduzzi Olympic Talent Search
Rower Rian Lenarduzzi at an RBC Training Ground event. Photo courtesy of RBC Training Ground

“If you’re thinking maybe you don’t have it in you or you’re intimidated by the Olympic title, there’s an athlete from Barrie that’s been identified, and she was identified in 2021,” Effah said. “It’s really cool to see somebody who’s [gone] through the program not only coming back to give back but who’s now pushing to make that Olympic dream come true.”

Effah wants athletes to remember that they’ve identified potential Olympians from towns all over the country. Lenarduzzi and McKay are proof that talent is coming from all over, not just big cities like Toronto, Vancouver or Halifax. Seeing the success of the program so far makes Effah wish it was around when he was young.

Whether the goal is to reach the Olympics or simply to make a team at university, RBC Training Ground allows athletes to get in front of talent scouts while also benefitting from the mentorship of Olympic athletes. Worst case scenario, athletes that don’t get identified by a sport still have the chance to meet new people while refining their skills, Effah said, and successful applicants have the opportunity to get guidance from top experts in the field.

“For those athletes that maybe you’re nervous about going to an event, you can check out @RBCTrainingGround on Instagram to get not only a full calendar of the events but [also] what the testing looks like, how to participate and some athletes that have already come through the program,” Effah said. “We’ve done 17 events so far this year, so you can actually get a bird’s eye view of what these events look like and what you’ve signed up for.”

To register for the scouting event on April 15, visit the RBC Training Ground website.


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