No shortage of Maroon and Grey in Canada’s Red and White

Colleen Cupido, Anne Marie Thuss and Lisa Thomaidis pose in front of a moose statue in London’s Olympic Village. (Photo: McMaster Athletes)

The world’s largest sports competition, the Summer Olympic Games, is set for London, England from July 27 to Aug. 12.

Making the trip to the UK for this summer’s Olympics are several members of the McMaster Athletics and Recreation family, who will be representing the university as well as the Canadian team, both in competition and behind the scenes.

The Canadian women’s basketball team recently qualified for the Games, marking Canada’s return to Olympic competition for the first time since 2000. Members of the Canadian staff are assistant coach Lisa Thomaidis and team manager Anne Marie Thuss.

Thomaidis is a McMaster alumna who played five great seasons in the Maroon and Grey, being named an Ontario University Athletics all-star three times. She served as an assistant coach under present Mac mentor Theresa Burns, and is currently the head coach at the University of Saskatchewan.

In 2006, Thomaidis was inducted into the McMaster Athletic Hall of Fame.

A current assistant coach with the Marauder women’s basketball team, Thuss has been on the McMaster staff since 2001 and spent one year as the team’s interim head coach. She has been involved with the Canadian national team program for several years, and said being part of the Olympic qualifying experience was a very emotional time.

“To have been part of this journey for the past 10 years with these remarkable women through qualification tournaments, Pan Am championships and World championships, it is fitting that their commitment to work hard for each other and their country has earned them a berth in the Olympics this summer,” said Thuss.

“Nothing was more fitting then to have the team qualify on Canada Day in Ankara, Turkey and it was emotional on so many different levels for many of us.”

Heading to London as the head athletic therapist for the Canadian beach volleyball team is Colleen Cupido. The manager of McMaster’s David Braley Sports Injury and Rehabilitation Clinic, Cupido has been piling up the air miles as she was in Mexico for a recent Olympic qualifying event that saw Canada win in both men’s and women’s competition and qualify for the summer games. A former national team athlete herself, Cupido says the Olympics represent the pinnacle of achievement within one’s sport.

“Having the opportunity to wear the Canadian flag while representing our country in the Olympic Games is a dream come true for me and all the members of our National Beach Volleyball delegation,” said Cupido before leaving for London. “I feel both honored and privileged to be a part of the team in the role as Chief Therapist, and I will cherish my Olympic experience forever.”

Also joining the Sports Medicine staff for the Canadian Olympic delegation is Tara Baker, who will be serving as a physiotherapist for the Canadian mountain bike team. Baker holds Bachelor of Kinesiology and Masters of Physiotherapy degrees from McMaster.

Andrew Yorke

A stellar competitor for the McMaster cross country team over his varsity career, Andrew Yorke is going to the Olympics in a challenging position. He was named as the team alternate for Men’s Triathlon, meaning he will only compete should one of the three Canadians set to go in London suffer injury or illness.

Yorke commented on his status: “The Men’s triathlon goes off on August 7th. In the unfortunate circumstance that someone was injured I would race at the games as a team concept racer, aiding my fellow Canadians on the swim and bike portions of the race and then free to race for myself on the run.”

Despite being in the difficult position of alternate, Yorke is determined to get the most out of his exposure to the world’s biggest sports festival. “Getting named to Team Canada was an exhilarating feeling. Not many athletes ever get the opportunity to participate, even in a small role, at a major games so I feel very fortunate that Triathlon Canada has recognized my hard work by naming me to the team.

“My goal has always been to challenge for a high placing at the Olympics in 2016 and I see this as a stepping stone to realizing my ultimate dream four years from now. My coach, Barrie Shepley (Mac alumni), has instilled a belief that I could compete with the best in the world one day, and I have to thank him for all of the support he has and continues to give me.”

One of Yorke’s teammates is decorated Olympian Simon Whitfield, who was recently named as Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies. Taking note of Yorke’s vast improvement over the last year, Whitfield has made McMaster a second training base in preparation for the London Games. The native of B.C. has been training extensively with McMaster Swim Coach Andrew Cole, and Rory Sneyd and Paula Schnurr from the Mac Cross Country team. Already a Gold (2000 in Sydney) and Silver (2008 in Beijing) Olympic medalist, any success Whitfield has in London will have a tint of Maroon to go along with it.

Doug Csima

Among the medal favourites in London will be the Canadian men’s eights rowing crew, featuring McMaster alumni Doug Csima and Jerry Brown. The Canadian men’s eight won the last Olympic Gold medal at the 2008 games in Beijing, and set the world record over 2000-metres at a regatta in Switzerland last May to qualify for the summer games. A native of Oakville, Csima was a member of the McMaster Varsity Rowing Crew from 2003-07 and has been a top performer for Hamilton’s Leander Boat Club and a member of the National rowing team since 2008; while Brown of Cobourg got started rowing a little later. A former offensive tackle with the Marauder football team from 2004-2007, Brown did not take up the sport until 2008 and joined the Canadian men’s eight in 2011.

Donna Vakalis

Heading to her second Olympics is alumna Donna Vakalis, who will be competing in the Modern Pentathlon. Vakalis served as Canadian team alternate in 2008 in Beijing, but will compete in London and enters the Games ranked 32nd in the world. Modern Pentathlon has competitors engage in fencing, swimming, running, shooting, and show jumping. New to the competition in 2012 is the introduction of laser pistols, replacing the formerly used pellet guns.

In a recent Toronto Star article, Vakalis commented on the diversity of her event, and having to excel at five sports in one day. “It’s learning to live with knowing you can’t spend 100 per cent of your time just doing one thing … you hope to be a more balancing person than that, so you try to excel at multiple things,” she said.

While not competitors in sports that are offered by Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), there are three more McMaster alumni competing in London.

Adam Van Koeverden

One of Canada’s most successful summer Olympians, kayaker Adam Van Koeverden, will be back on the water as he shoots for another podium finish. The Oakville native and 2007 McMaster graduate won Gold and Bronze medals at the 2004 Games in Athens, and brought home a Silver medal from Beijing in 2008. He is again listed among the favourites in his best event, the K-1 1500m race.

Making their first appearances in Olympic competition are equestrian David Marcus, who will compete for Canada in dressage, and Font Hill’s Joe Veloce, who will debut on the cycling track at the new Olympic Velodrome.

As an event that only occurs every four years, it’s a special time for those involved and triathlete Yorke comments on just how meaningful the Olympic Games are for the participants.

“The Olympics are the pinnacle of our sport and competing there justifies your sacrifices, and the sacrifices of teammates, coaches, family and friends. There is nothing more I would love to do than wear the Maple Leaf on my chest and represent Canada at the Olympics and hopefully have the chance to do something special for the entire country.”