The Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games are poised to begin and the energy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is electric. As Canada's Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, I'm thrilled to attend the Games to cheer on our athletes.
As a retired Paralympian, I know what the 314 Olympic athletes in Rio are feeling. In Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992) as a member of Canada's Paralympic swim team, I clearly recall a feeling of focused anticipation and reverence. I understood then as our athletes do now that no one gets to an Olympic Games on their own. As athletes we know our anticipation and joys are shared by friends and family at home and in essence by all Canadians. This is a central part of the magic of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Whether you are in the pool, on the track or back home gathered in front of the television following the coverage, we share this magic. We are ALL a part of it. It is a truism, not a slogan -- together we are ALL Team Canada.
Since my arrival in Rio a few days ago I have had the honour of sharing and in a sense reliving unforgettable moments with our athletes. I watched with intense pride as our flag was raised and our athletes were formally welcomed to their new home in the Athletes' Village. I watched the pride and joy on the faces of those in attendance. As I watched this moment unfold it was abundantly clear to me that Canadian athletes are ready.
An Olympic or Paralympic moment takes a community, a sport system and a nation.
Millions of Canadians will watch the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron during Friday's Opening Ceremony which signals the official start of the Games. I am certain that it will be a spectacular Ceremony but it isn't the main reason why today is different for our athletes. Today our Team Canada 2016 stories are not yet written. Today, anything is possible.
Team Canada 2016 offers a great combination of new faces and seasoned champions. We have qualified five team sports to the games in Rio, the most since Los Angeles in 1984 (women's soccer, basketball and rugby sevens, as well as men's volleyball and field hockey). We will send three teams to the Paralympic Games (sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby). Our Chefs de Mission for the Olympics (Curt Harnett) and Paralympics (Chantal Petitclerc) certainly lead by example having proven their mettle through three Olympic Games (one Silver and two Bronze medals) and five Paralympics (14 Gold, five Silver and two Bronze medals) respectively.
Each athlete who wears the maple leaf has trained tirelessly and competed fearlessly for their spot in Rio. Our athletes -- as was the case in my athletic career -- understand that success is not theirs alone. The successes in the days to follow are also those of entire families. Most often, they belong in large part to the moms and dads who dreamt first and who were up early in the morning and with them until late at night. They are shared with the coaches and support staff who push each athlete to fight just a little bit harder. An Olympic or Paralympic moment takes a community, a sport system and a nation.
Let's show our Team Canada athletes that we appreciate the magic and the memories they create for all of us. Let's unite as one team, #35Mstrong
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough was elected in 2015 as the Member of Parliament for Delta, B.C. She is Canada's first Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
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