The Olympics were a thrill that Parry Sound’s Graham Ritchie will never forget.
“It really took a couple of days to really realize that you’re living in the Olympic village and realizing you’re at the Olympics and remembering to take in all the experiences,” the 23-year-old, first-time Olympian says.
One of the many reasons the Olympics were so special for Ritchie was being able to compete alongside his childhood friend, and Parry Sound native, Megan Oldham. “It was pretty special to be able to share that with Megan,” he says. Oldham was also competing in her first Olympics. Ritchie says they were lucky and lived in the same Olympic village so they were able to spend some time together during the games.
The athletes in Beijing for the Olympics had a strict set of rules they had to follow, so Ritchie wasn’t able to experience the culture of the city but says he did spend a lot of time with his fellow Olympians. The only time Ritchie left was to get on the bus to go to train or for his race.
Ritchie, along with his teammate Antoine Cyr, made history in the men’s team sprint class cross-country ski race. They finished fifth, which is the best finish at the Olympics in Canadian history in the event. “That was pretty cool,” he says, adding it was only the second time the pair competed together. The first time was last year at the world championships where they placed seventh. “It was eye-opening to see we could make it to the finals and compete with the big guys,” he says.
He competed in two other races during the games, finishing 11th in the 4 x 10-kilometre cross-country ski relay event and missed out on qualifying for the men’s cross country skiing sprint free semifinals by just 0.45 seconds. Unfortunately for friends and family back home, most of his races were on very early in the morning. “The races were at ridiculous times for Ontario,” he jokes.
The three other men on the cross-country skiing team were also competing in their first games. Ritchie says, thankfully, Dahria Beatty and Katherine Stewart-Jones on the women’s side were competing in their second games so he and his teammates leaned on them for support.
Throughout the games, people back home closely followed Ritchie and Oldham. “It’s incredible to see the support from our community,” Ritchie says. “We had no idea a community could come together that strong for a couple of athletes.”
Ritchie is in Finland right now with two races coming up this weekend in Lahti. Early Monday morning he will travel to Norway for two races in Drammen with another two races that weekend in Oslo. Ritchie’s season doesn’t finish there. He will be in Sweden in two weeks for another race in Falun, before finishing the year in Whistler, B.C. for an event that will involve some of his American rivals. “It’s the big end-of-season race for the North American circuit,” he says.