Wreslter Amar Dhesi is among Surrey-connected athletes set to compete at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. (Photo: olympic.ca)

Wreslter Amar Dhesi is among Surrey-connected athletes set to compete at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. (Photo: olympic.ca)

Meet Surrey’s Olympians: At Tokyo Games, 9 athletes with roots in the city to compete

Some of them have competed at the Olympics before, others are first-timers

No fewer than nine athletes with Surrey roots are set to compete at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The pandemic-delayed Games get going Friday, July 23, and continue until Aug. 8, with no fans allowed in venues now that the Japanese government declared another state of emergency there.

A roster posted to the Team Canada website (olympic.ca) notes nine Olympics-bound athletes who list Surrey as their birthplace, hometown and/or residence.

The list includes biographies for Surrey-area athletes Shallon Olsen (artistic gymnastics), Christabel Nettey (long jump), Amar Dhesi (wrestling), Sukhi Panesar (field hockey), Kim Gaucher (basketball), Drew Mechielsen (BMX), Hillary Janssens (rowing), Sara Groenewegen (softball) and Hayley McKelvey (water polo).

Some have competed at the Olympics before (Olsen, Nettey, Panesar), while others are new to the Games this summer.

Posted below are their biographies, from olympic.ca.

Christabel Nettey, long jump

“When Nettey was a young track and field athlete, she would watch the Olympic Games or other high-profile events on TV and dream of being the person out there competing for Canada while the world watched. She made her first Canadian team at age 14 when she competed at the 2007 IAAF World Youth Championships in long jump and 100m hurdles.

“The excitement of making that team motivated her to work hard so that one day she could compete on the biggest stages. In 2013 she finished second at the NCAA Championships while attending Arizona State University. She went on to in bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. In 2015 she set the Canadian record, both indoors and outdoors, at 6.99m. The outdoor mark came in her second-place finish at the Prefontaine Classic in late May, a Diamond League event.

“Nettey won gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games with a long jump of 6.90m, beating second place by more than 20cm. She went on to post a career-best result at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, finishing fourth with a leap of 6.95m that was just 6cm shy of the podium. Battling a season-long groin injury, Nettey made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016. She won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast before going on to win her sixth straight national title.”

• RELATED STORY, from 2015: ‘Fourth is really hard’: Surrey long jumper Christabel Nettey wanted more in Beijing.

Drew Mechielsen, BMX cycling

Born in Surrey and now living in Langley, Mechielsen had her breakout year in 2018. “At the season-opening World Cup event in St-Quentin, France, she advanced to her first career World Cup final. She posted three more top-10 finishes that year, finishing the season ranked 17th in the world. Mechielsen had made her UCI World Championships debut in 2017, finishing 17th. She has since competed at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships.

“In 2019, Mechielsen won the Canadian BMX racing title for the first time. She made her second career World Cup final in Papendal, Netherlands before making her multi-sport games debut at the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games where she finished seventh. She ended the season at number 23 in the world rankings.

“After competing in just three World Cup events in 2020, Mechielsen returned to the World circuit in 2021, putting up a pair of top-20 results by July, including a 10th-place finish at the season opener in Verona.”

• RELATED STORY, with video: Mechielsen top Canadian at Verona BMX competition.

Amar Dhesi, wrestling

“Dhesi earned his way to Tokyo 2020 by first winning the 125kg weight class at the national trials in December 2019 and then reaching the final at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier in March 2020. Dhesi defeated Rio 2016 Olympian Korey Jarvis in dominant fashion at the trials, reversing the result from four years earlier. Just ahead of the Olympic qualifier, Dhesi also won 125kg silver at the Pan American Championships. As part of his preparations for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Dhesi won gold at the Matteo Pellicone Tournament in March 2021.

“Before his Olympic dream became a reality, Dhesi endured three ACL tears in six years and underwent two reconstructive surgeries, which caused him to miss two seasons of competition for Oregon State University. He had his best college season in 2018 when he won the second of his three Pac-12 titles and finished third at the NCAA Division I Championships, resulting in him being named Oregon State Male Athlete of the Year. He finished his collegiate career as a three-time All-American.

“Dhesi made his first splash on the international scene when he won 120kg gold at the 2014 World Junior Championships. He competed at his first senior worlds in 2018.

“Though it often makes people laugh, Dhesi still identifies his gold medal from the provincial championships in grade nine as one of his proudest moments because it was the first time he realized he could be good at wrestling, making it the starting point of his career.”

• RELATED STORY: Surrey’s Dhesi looks to wrestle his way to Olympics in Japan.

Hayley McKelvey, water polo

Born in Surrey and now living in Montreal, McKelvey competed with Team Canada at the 2012 and 2014 Youth World Championships, winning silver at the latter. “She also competed at the Junior World Championships in 2013 and 2015. In 2017, she helped Canada to a silver medal at the FINA World League Super Final where she was named to the media all-star team. She was also part of Canada’s fourth-place finish at the 2017 FINA World Championships.

“In 2019, McKelvey competed at her second FINA World Championships and helped Canada win the silver medal at the Pan Am Games in Lima, which secured their ticket to Tokyo 2020. In 2021, she was part of Canada’s fourth-place finish at the FINA World League Super Final, the team’s first competition in more than 18 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“McKelvey won two NCAA national titles in 2016 and 2018 with the USC Trojans.”

She began playing water polo with the North Delta Sunfish in the Lower Mainland Water Polo League before joining the Pacific Storm in 2010.

• RELATED STORY, from 2018: North Delta water polo player on the road to the Olympics.

Sara Groenewegen, softball

“Groenewegen plays high-level softball while managing her Type 1 diabetes, something she has dealt with since age nine. In her first tournament with Team Canada, Groenewegen threw a no-hitter against China at the 2013 WBSC Junior World Championships. Later that year she suited up with the senior national team at the World Cup of Softball and the Canada Cup.

“Groenewegen played for Team Canada at the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championships in 2014 and 2016, winning bronze at the latter. She was also a member of the gold medal-winning squad at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto where she pitched a complete game in the final, shutting out Team USA for seven innings. Groenewegen missed competing at the 2018 World Championships after being diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia, and being placed in a medically induced coma for 10 days.

“Having made a full recovery ahead of the 2019 season, Groenewegen was back with her teammates at the Pan American Games in Lima where they won silver. A few weeks later, she started three games and posted a 2-1 record with a 0.70 ERA while striking out 11 at the WBSC Americas Olympic Qualifier where the team booked its ticket to Tokyo 2020 on the field she grew up on.

“Groenewegen played collegiate for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers where she was a three-time All-American (2014-17). In her freshman year in 2014, she led the NCAA in average strikeouts per game (11.6) and threw a no-hitter against Penn State. She now holds the Minnesota school record for career strikeouts (1214) and posted a 0.63 ERA as a senior.”

• RELATED STORY: White Rock, Surrey softball players land in Tokyo with Canadian Olympic team.

• READ ALSO: Former White Rock Renegade on mend after hospitalization

Sukhi Panesar, field hockey

“Panesar has more than 135 senior national team caps since making his debut in 2010. The highlight of his junior career was competing at the 2013 Junior Hockey World Cup in New Delhi. That same year, he was part of the Canadian team that won silver at the Pan American Cup.

“In 2014 he competed at the Commonwealth Games and at the Champions Challenge 1 in Malaysia, where Canada finished second in the tournament that was a qualifier for the Champions Trophy. In June 2015, Panesar scored twice in the shootout of Canada’s quarterfinal victory over New Zealand in the FIH World League Semifinals, a win that would eventually secure the team’s qualification for Rio 2016.

“A few weeks later he scored another shootout goal, this time against Brazil in the Pan Am Games semifinal in Toronto, where Canada would go on to win silver. Panesar made his Olympic debut at Rio 2016, playing in all five of Canada’s matches. At the 2018 FIH World Cup, Panesar played in four of Canada’s games, helping the team to an 11th place finish.”

• RELATED STORY, with video: For Olympic Games, Surrey field hockey players are thrilled to train at Tamanawis ‘home’ park.

Shallon Olsen, artistic gymnastics

“At the 2018 World Championships, Olsen captured silver in the vault for Canada’s best-ever result in the event. She matched teammate Ana Padurariu’s silver on beam for the country’s top finish by a woman in an individual apparatus. She also contributed to Canada’s best-ever fourth-place finish in the team event. Earlier in the year, Olsen had won three medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, gold in team and vault as well as bronze on floor.

“Olsen was the youngest member of Team Canada when she made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016 in her first year of senior eligibility. She achieved a career highlight by qualifying for the eight-woman vault final, a feat she repeated in her world championship debut in 2017 in Montreal. She qualified for her third straight vault final at the world championships in 2019 when she just missed the podium, finishing fourth. It was also at those worlds that she helped Canada qualify in the team event for Tokyo 2020. Earlier in 2019, Olsen helped Canada win team silver and earned an individual bronze in vault at the Pan Am Games in Lima.”

“Olsen had a stellar junior career. In 2013 she won three gold medals at the junior national championships, taking the all-around, vault and floor exercise titles. She followed that up in 2014 by claiming junior national medals on all four apparatus (gold on vault, silver on uneven bars and beam, bronze on floor exercise) to go with an all-around silver. Olsen also enjoyed some standout international performances in 2014. At the Pacific Rim Championships she won silver in team and floor exercise to go with a bronze on vault. Olsen competed as a senior at the 2015 Canadian Championships where she finished sixth in the all-around but impressively won gold on vault. She would go on to successfully defend her national vault title every year from 2016 to 2019.”

• RELATED STORY: Olympics-bound Surrey gymnast Shallon Olsen enters sports hall of fame – in Coquitlam.

Kim Gaucher, basketball

Born in Surrey and now living in Mission, Gaucher has been playing with the senior women’s national team since 2001. “Her career highlight came over a decade later when she helped them qualify for London 2012, the first Olympic tournament for the Canadian women since 2000. In six games played in her Olympic debut, Gaucher led the team with 13.8 points per game and a 57.7 field goal percentage.

“Her other multi-sport Games experience includes the 2003 Pan Am Games as well as the 2015 Pan Am Games where Gaucher led the team with 27 rebounds and contributed 7.4 points per game as Canada won gold. She was also amongst the team leaders with 33 rebounds at the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship where Canada won gold to qualify for Rio 2016. While in Rio, Gaucher played her 200th game for Team Canada. She averaged 7.5 points and 6 rebounds in 25.3 minutes per game in her second Olympic appearance.

“Gaucher next suited up for the national team in 2018. At the FIBA World Cup, she contributed a total of 29 points and 15 assists as Canada finished seventh. That was her fourth appearance at what was previously called the FIBA World Championships. In 2014, she had led the team in total points (62) and the Canadian women finished fifth for their best result since 1986.

“In 2019, she was part of Canada’s runner-up finish at the FIBA AmeriCup and helped Canada advance to the final phase of Olympic qualification. In February 2020, she averaged 16.2 minutes as Canada went 3-0 to book their berth at Tokyo 2020.

“Gaucher was a first-round selection in the 2006 WNBA Draft, going to the Sacramento Monarchs with the 13th pick, where she played three seasons and became the first Canadian to appear in a WNBA Finals.”

• RELATED STORY: Tokyo Olympics allowing B.C. athlete to bring her nursing daughter to Games.

Hillary Janssens, rowing

Raised in the Cloverdale area, Janssens first competed internationally at the 2014 World Rowing U23 Championships where she won bronze in the four. A year later, she and Nicole Hare were the only returning members of the crew that moved up to silver at the 2015 U23 Worlds.

“In her third appearance at the U23 Worlds in 2016, she reached the top step of the podium as she and Hare won gold in the pair. Earlier in the summer, Janssens made her World Cup debut in the pair with Hare but was named as an alternate for the 2016 Olympic team. Disappointed at the time, she later realized how much room she had to improve, ultimately making her a better athlete.

“Janssens won her first World Cup medal in 2017, taking bronze with the four in Lucerne. She made her debut at the senior World Rowing Championships that summer, winning silver with the eight. In 2018, she teamed up with Caileigh Filmer in the pair. In their first senior international regatta together, they won World Cup gold in Belgrade by almost six seconds over the runners-up. After skipping the second World Cup, they returned to the podium in Lucerne, finishing just 0.43 behind the reigning world champions for silver. At the 2018 World Championships, Filmer and Janssens turned the tables on the New Zealand crew and won the gold medal by more than two seconds.

“While Filmer sat out of the 2019 World Cup season, Janssens raced in the pair with Sydney Payne as well as in the four and the eight and made the A final in each of her three World Cup events. Reunited with Filmer at the 2019 World Championships, they won bronze in the pair and finished fourth with the eight, qualifying both boats for Tokyo 2020.

“While attending UBC, Janssens rowed for the Thunderbirds where she was a four-time Canadian university champion in the women’s eight and women’s pair, and was twice named the top rower at the Canadian University Rowing Championships (2015, 2016).”

• RELATED STORY, from 2017: Cloverdale rower takes bronze in international competition.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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