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Canadian Olympic hockey player Blayre Turnbull shared this photo to Instagram of her and fiancé Ryan Sommer, a Team Canada bobsledder, at the Beijing opening ceremony on Feb. 4.Instagram

Blayre Turnbull walked into the opening ceremony at the Beijing Winter Olympics with her lively hockey squad. Ryan Sommer arrived with the guys from his four-man bobsleigh crew.

Both were dedicated to sharing that distinct Olympic moment with their teammates, but Turnbull and Sommer were also scanning the crowd for one another.

The Canadian hockey player and the bobsleigh brakeman are engaged, but because of conflicting travel schedules and various COVID-related bubbles, the couple had been apart for three months.

Both decked head to toe in red Team Canada gear, and masked, Turnbull and Sommer found one another just briefly inside Beijing National Stadium. They captured a photo they’ll treasure always, arms wrapped around one another against the eye-popping backdrop of the world’s best winter athletes on parade.

Their reunion was short, though, and they had to part ways again. Turnbull has spent her Games in the Beijing hub where hockey takes place. The sliding hub is somewhere entirely different – Sommer is 74 kilometres northwest of Beijing, in the Xiaohaituo mountain area in Yanqing.

Turnbull of Stellarton, N.S., and Sommer from White Rock, B.C., plan to get married in the summer of 2023. They’re hoping for a big bash somewhere on the East Coast, but for now the focus is squarely on competing.

Turnbull’s team has barrelled over the competition in Beijing, and is headed for the gold medal game. Sommer will push for the veteran pilot Justin Kripps in the four-man sled, with training heats starting on Wednesday. “We both have the same goal – we both want to win a gold medal,” said Turnbull after a practice this week in Beijing. “So we know our focus is on that.”

The two 28-year-old athletes have been just missing one another in Calgary for months, where they share a townhouse. Sommer was in China, and just as the bobsledders were coming home to Canada, the hockey team was leaving for an exhibition tour to Finland. As she flew back from Finland, he had just left for a lengthy stint of competitions in Europe.

They even arrived in Beijing on the same day – Sommer on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, and Turnbull from Vancouver. Once again, their schedules narrowly misaligned.

“I was hoping maybe I’d get to see her at the airport, but no,” Sommer said by phone from Yanqing. “We’re both in Olympic Games mode. I would love to see her and spend time with her but we’re both here chasing medals.”

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Turnbull scores a goal against Switzerland's Andrea Braendli at a preliminary round women's hockey game on Feb. 3.Matt Slocum/The Associated Press

They met in 2018 while training at the same gym in Calgary. Turnbull was trying to make her first Olympic team for the Pyeongchang Games.

Sommer had just taken up bobsleigh two years earlier and relocated there. He’d been working as a forest firefighter in Northern Alberta, when he was on base watching the 2016 Rio Olympics with some friends on TV and they got talking about Olympic aspirations.

It prompted the former University of Lethbridge discus and hammer thrower to consider trying bobsleigh. He drove 18 hours to Richmond, B.C., from Manning, Alta., with a few buddies in his Volkswagen Golf to attend a national bobsleigh recruitment camp. From there, his journey as a bobsledder kicked off.

He was still in his budding seasons in bobsleigh when Turnbull earned a silver medal as a forward with Canada at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. He travelled to South Korea to watch her play. In the time since, Sommer earned his way onto Canada’s Olympic bobsleigh team, and this will be his first Games.

Turnbull’s sport happens in 60 minutes on ice, while Sommer’s event takes place in a 60-second blur. Yet Turnbull and Sommer relate to one another, even do much of the same training. Both sprint and powerlift. Both are fiercely dedicated to their teammates and to the craft – the study, the equipment, the tactics. During the strictest lockdown months early in the pandemic, they went to train together in his parents’ garage in Kelowna, B.C.

“We always manage to have fun along the way,” said Sommer. “It’s fun going through it with someone who understands, someone you’re going to spend the rest of your life with.”

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Canada's Justin Kripps, Ryan Sommer, Cameron Stones and Ben Coakwell celebrate after a race at the Bobsleigh World Championships in Whistler, B.C., in 2019.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

He proposed in Lake Louise, Alta., this past April.

Since then Turnbull has been bubbled with her hockey team more than once, including for the world championship in Calgary in August, where Canada won gold and she broke her ankle in the postgame celebration pile. She had surgery – seven screws inserted into the ankle – and she recuperated well. She let him carry her up on the stairs of their three-storey home only a couple of times.

“She’s very strong and independent, so she was mostly crutching up and down those stairs,” said Sommer.

The trip to Beijing from the sliding hub in Yanqing takes a couple of hours each way, so Sommer and his teammates have done it just once on an off-day – to watch Turnbull and her teammates beat the U.S. 4-2 last week in the preliminary round.

Since Turnbull will be done competing first in Beijing, she plans to go with some of her teammates to Yanqing to watch him race. Until then, they stick to the usual routine.

“You don’t really want to be sitting on a bus for three hours during a day where you should be trying to recover and making sure you’re prepping for your next test,” said Turnbull. “So it’s the same as it’s been for the last few months – texting and FaceTiming whenever we can.”

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