Okanagan athletes aiming for the Olympic podium with the help of this school - InfoNews

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Okanagan athletes aiming for the Olympic podium with the help of this school

Athletes at the Canadian Sports School in Kelowna train to improve their technique, rather than focusing on their own specialty.
Image Credit: Submitted/Canadian Sports School
March 12, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Jerome Blake is poised to make his first appearance at the Olympics in Tokyo this summer and the Jamaican-born Kelowna sprinter spares no shortage of gratitude for being able to focus on training while he attended school.

The Canadian Sports School helped get him to the level where he’s now preparing to run in his first Olympics qualifying heats in a couple of weeks.

“It taught me how train as a professional,” Blake told iNFOnews.ca. “It gets you exposed to more than just focusing on your sport.”

If Blake qualifies, he will follow in the steps of Kelowna-born Tess Critchlow who attended the same school on her way to finishing 9th in Women’s Snowboard Cross in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Jerome Blake
Jerome Blake
Image Credit: harryjerome.com

The Canadian Sports School has been in Kelowna for eight years and is starting classes in Penticton next fall. A similar organization in Kamloops offers evening trainings sessions without the school component.

It’s open to elite athletes in Grades 10 through 12.

“The whole point of it is that we’re promoting multi-sport training,” Jackie Lawther, the school’s Kelowna director explained. “We aren’t getting sport specific with them yet. We don’t want them to just be training in their one sport. It can burn them out and cause injuries.”

The school is part of the national Canadian Sports Institutes/Centres program that recruits elite athletes in an effort to get more Canadians to finish on Olympic podiums.

Students have to apply before April 16 and Lawther advises that they plan their regular school timetable as if they will not make the cut.

If they are accepted, they take their regular school classes each morning then relocate to one of three facilities in Kelowna for an afternoon with more school work plus a couple of hours of training that’s focused on building technique, agility and flexibility.

All students go through the same program that’s not specific to any sport. It only varies over time as their conditioning and technique improves.

Since athletes at this level are generally training in their chosen sport, this school is not going to push them into doing two strenuous workouts each day.

Image Credit: Submitted/Canadian Sports School

“A lot of them are coming in at Grade 10 so it’s all very new to them,” Lawther said. “We’ll mainly be teaching them the form of Olympic lifting, for example. We don’t put a lot of weight on them at this point. We really want to make sure their technique is perfect before we put on any more weights. We are trying to promote their overall movement and prevent injury.

“Once they are comfortable with that move, we start putting on a little bit more. We’re not trying to tire them out or do a crazy heavy leg day with them so they can’t walk. We’re trying to help them slowly get stronger, slowly to be able to move better, slowly get faster.”

There are about 25-30 students who apply each year and about 20 make the cut.

“It’s dependent on the whole athlete,” Lawther said. “We do interview them and we talk to their parents and their coaches. We do try to get to know them and try to see their values. We want to see an athlete that’s really driven and motivated in their sport.

“Just because they’re a good athlete doesn’t mean they’re a perfect candidate for our program. We want to help them develop as an overall athlete so they can get to that next level. Their personality is definitely an important factor.”

Blake only spent one year at the school, in Grade 12.

He credits it with not only helping him develop as an athlete – techniques he continues to use today – but it also taught him life skills.

“Half the people I went to school with are still friends today,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

It's more than training. Life skills are taught as well.
It's more than training. Life skills are taught as well.
Image Credit: Submitted/Canadian Sports School

Blake is now living in Burnaby and training with the Coquitlam Cheetahs but still considers Kelowna home.

He has a personal best in the 100 metres of 10:20, which puts him in contention for the men’s 4 x 100 Olympic relay.

Of course, he hopes to qualify for both the 100 and 200 metre sprints.

“I can’t say, really, what’s going to happen but I feel really good,” he said. “I have an opportunity to run faster here. If I do so, hopefully, you’re going to see me sign up for both events.”

Back in Kelowna, the current group of students includes athletes in sports like volleyball, basketball, soccer, cross country running, Jiu Jitsu and even a race car driver.

Find out more about the sports school and register here.

Kelowna Secondary School's Anya Pemberton, seen here during a volleyball game, trains at Canadian Sports School and has verbally committed to Arizona State University for beach volleyball in 2021.
Kelowna Secondary School's Anya Pemberton, seen here during a volleyball game, trains at Canadian Sports School and has verbally committed to Arizona State University for beach volleyball in 2021.
Image Credit: Submitted/Canadian Sports School

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