We can all burst with pride when Mariposa skaters hit the Olympic ice

Pay attention to these names. Bitna Park. Takeshi Honda. Ky Hynn Lee. Jennifer Robinson. Jacynthe Lariviere. Lenny Faustino. These are the names behind brilliant skating performances that started right here in Barrie.

How many communities are sending six athletes from one discipline to the Olympics? I’d be willing to bet that little Barrie, Ontario is the only one.

And, that’s largely because of the combined brilliance of Michelle and Doug Leigh and the 37 people who work for Mariposa Skating School. A world-recognized facility, Mariposa is currently training Olympic calibre skaters from Finland, Great Britain, Turkey, United States, Japan and Korea, as well as Canada.

On Wednesday, six skaters, four coaches, and one former World Champion who is serving as an Olympic judge, boarded aircraft for Salt Lake City. If you watched the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies Friday night, and felt goosebumps when you saw the Canadian team, then you saw this brilliant battery of Canadian blade talent.

Jennifer Robinson, five times Canadian Champion, has been with Mariposa for 11 years, since she was 14 years old. This is her first Olympics and Doug Leigh is delighted that she meets the criteria for Ladies competition.

Lenny Faustino and Jacynthe Lariviere are competing in the Pairs category… their first Olympics. They’ve had an outstanding year of competition, ranked second at the Canadians. Young (ages 21 and 19), this is their first Olympic experience. Of Lenny and Jacynthe, Doug comments: “they’re expecting a wicked experience and they’re working for a world class position. They can skate with the best of them.” Their coach, Lee Barkell, will accompany Lenny (who hails from Woodbridge) and Jacynthe (from Montreal).

Bitna Park is another favoured Mariposa skater. She’s representing her home country of Korea as a Ladies contender and at age 16 she’s been training with Mariposa for two years. ?Bitna represents a gigantic breakthrough for Korea; she’s the first Korean skater ever to represent her country in an Olympic Games. It’s also a gigantic breakthrough that Bitna has left her country for outside coaching. What a first for Bitna! And at age 16!

Takeshi Honda, a very popular male skater, will compete against Todd Eldridge, Elvis Stoiko, and a hot new contender from China. As well as the splendid Russian competitors… For Takeshi, who is only 20, this experience will an incredible pinnacle for him and his country, Japan.

Ky Hynn Lee, who is 21, will compete for Korea. He’s been training with Mariposa and was accepted as a Mens contender at the last minute because other countries didn’t meet the candidate criteria. It’s a great opportunity for him.

Sitting among the 36 judges who are responsible for deciding on gold, silver, bronze is former Canadian Champion, Debbie Albright . Debbie rose to fame in the 70’s when she became the top Canadian Female Skater and she’s remained in the industry, working with her husband, David Islam, who runs the dance program for Mariposa. Skate Canada submitted Debbie’s name as an Olympic judge and off she went, taking some time off from her full time job with the Simcoe County Alzheimers Society.

For Doug and Michelle Leigh, the brilliance behind Mariposa, this will be their sixth Olympics. Doug’s philosophical about the entire experience… “We’re lucky to get one Olympic contender and we’ve had many. We’ve had two silver medals with Brian Orser, two silvers with Elvis Stojko. Out of the whole process we’ve ended up with 15 world and olympic medals to date. Right after the Olympics, the Mariposa crew is off to the World Skating Championships in Nagano, Japan, Doug’s 22nd Worlds in a row.

As the Mariposa skaters have their Olympic experience, Doug is firm about one thing. “I want them all to enjoy it. I don’t want them to be stressed. This is a first for all of them! This is an important experience for any young athlete.” To this end, Mariposa coaches Robert Tebby and Lee Barkell will be on hand to make sure their young athletes aren’t overwhelmed by it all. They make sure they’re looked after, that they get where they’re going.

“It’s so easy for them to get nervous. But this is what they’ve trained for. They’ll wake up 10 years from now and say ‘I’m one of them.’ Whether it’s hockey or skating, we’re all the same when we’re in the village. We’re all in that same stable.”

“I try never to forget the amount of work it takes to get there. There are no shortcuts…”

Thanks, Michelle. Thanks, Doug. And thanks, Bitna, Takeshi, Jennifer, Lenny, Jacynthe, Robert, Lee and Debbie!