NWT swimmer Leo Konge took gold at the Western Canada Summer Games on Sunday, the first title for the territory at this level in 20 years.
Konge had already won two bronze medals on Saturday at the Games in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. His medals are the territory’s first at a Westerns since 2011.
Before winning gold on Sunday, the Yellowknife resident had already described his surprise at reaching the podium twice.
On being told his was the NWT’s first Westerns gold medal in two decades, he replied with a laugh: “If it’s been that long, I guess someone had to do it.”
Konge took third place in both the 100m butterfly event on Saturday morning and the 200m fly later on the same day.
The 15-year-old then won the 50m fly on Sunday evening, defeating Manitoba’s Dylan Montemurro-Anderson by 0.16 seconds in a winning time of 27.43.
“I pushed myself pretty-much to my limit,” said Konge after his gold-medal ceremony. “There were a lot of people asking for pictures and a lot of people walking up to me and saying, ‘Good race, man.'”
Unusually, medals in the pool at this year’s Western Canada Summer Games are awarded based on times swimmers post in heats, with no final held.
“We never really expect to win medals at these kinds of things. We went into this knowing the odds were very much against us,” Konge told Cabin Radio before Sunday’s events.
“Discovering I had an actual chance was a big surprise, and managing to do this was completely out of my thinking.”
Konge attributed the weekend’s treble to his determination in training, while also suggesting several small elements of this week’s meet had played out in the NWT’s favour.
“It being just a straight competition [heats only] is really good for me, because all of the competitions in the NWT are [similar] timed finals,” he said after his second bronze medal.
“A lot of things are working out in our favour. The blocks are the same as we trained with for a very long time. We have that little bit of an edge every time.”
He is still to compete in the 100m freestyle and 200m backstroke, though reaching the podium is expected to be tougher in those events.
First since 1999
This year’s Westerns are taking place without the participation of British Columbia.
In 2016, the province decided to withdraw as “questions [had] been raised regarding the current relevance of the Western Canada Summer Games as they relate to the long-term athlete development model.”
BC had been by far the most successful team in 2015, winning 280 medals – 54 more than second-placed Alberta – across all sports.
In 2015, the NWT’s best results had been fourth-place finishes for Skylar Horton in the triple jump, Wilson Elliot in judo, and Bronson Dolynny in swimming’s 50m freestyle.
“Way to go Leo, two seconds faster than my time,” Dolynny wrote to Konge online on Saturday.
Eight years ago, Alea Stockton and Julianna Neudorf won silver and bronze respectively for the NWT in the women’s five-kilometre race walk.
That year, at the 2011 Westerns in Kamloops, the NWT’s men’s 100-metre relay team of Joseph Lirette, Madison Hurst, Mason Hachey, and Christopher Lirette also won bronze.
However, not since 1999 has an NWT athlete reached the top step of a Western Canada Summer Games podium.
Jonathan Kurszewski of Fort Smith threw a personal best in the javelin to win that year’s contest in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Konge said his coaches were “very excited” at his achievement – and he has already been talking to them about how to improve.
“I’ve been talking to them a lot about what went right, but also what went wrong,” he said. “It’s important to learn and to get better.”