Road To The Olympic Games



Canadian figure skating championships: Families play huge roles

All across Canada, there are skaters getting ready to head to Halifax and compete at the Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships this week. But as much as figure skating is a solo pursuit, making it to the national stage is not.

Skaters will have support of 3 team leaders in Halifax

The families of ice dancers Piper Gilles, left, and Paul Poirier have played a major role in their figure skating development. (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images)

All across Canada, there are skaters getting ready to head to Halifax and compete at the Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships this week.

The send-off for the Scarborough Figure Skating Club's national competitors was in front of a packed house. I was struck by the number of people in the audience who had come to support skaters, like ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. These weren't just parents and families; there were fans as well.

This exhibition was part of the preparation for the national championships, and being repeated in clubs around the country. Everything is taken into account when coming up with a training plan.

As much as figure skating is a solo pursuit, making it to the national stage is not.

The parents and families of skaters have a huge role to play.

For ice dancer Asher Hill's mother, Merville, any family sacrifices have been worthwhile.

"Just to see who they are on the ice and how happy they are as well as seeing them reach their goals is wonderful. Although the nerves take over when I get there [to the competition], you are just hoping for them to skate well."

Paul Poirier's mother, Debra Mendes de Franca, has the challenge of coordinating the logistics involved with making travel plans that accommodate vacation time within a work schedule, and the possibility of Paul competing.

"One of the biggest challenges used to be sending him [Paul] ahead of me because often I could only go last minute," she said. "Having other people look after him in my absence when he was younger was hard for me."

Support team

The other people to whom Debra refers to are part of the support team sent by each of Canada's 13 sections; all of which come with their own board of directors, mandates and operating structure.

The Central Ontario Section is one of four Ontario areas that include Toronto as part of its territory. The high performance director on the COS board is Kathy Adams, who frames this trip to the national championships this way.

"In 2016 we have one of our largest teams going to Canadians:  49 skaters from Central Ontario: 19 seniors, 12 juniors and 18 novice entries."

The high performance support is ongoing for the skaters throughout the season.

"We assist with the booking of logistics for skaters and coaches and any issues that arise," said Adams. "Extra support and time is afforded to new team members to make any performance a positive experience. 

"Skaters are awarded performance bursaries from the Skaters Trust Fund. COS also provides team wear at no cost to the skaters – it's all about the jacket! Funds for these and other programs are provided through competition and skating event profits to support elite athletes."

On the ground in Halifax, the skaters will have the support at the arena of three team leaders, including Adams.

There is another person, Anne Reedie, to man the COS Team Room at the skaters' hotel from before sun up to 11:30 p.m. This hotel role is as important as any other job, according to Adams.

"Anne is a great resource for them [the skaters] with issues regarding the event or hotel or transportation or pharmacy, or anything else. She is their 'go-to' person." The Team Room is mainly for the skaters and is intended as a quiet place where they can catch their breath.  

At the centre of it all, standing right beside the skaters, are the coaches. For CBC skating commentator Carol Lane, coaching elite ice dancers is the cornerstone of a lifelong career in figure skating.

She knows that by the time you get to Nationals, the work is already done.

"I am not a superstitious person but I like having rituals for myself and the skaters. It gives a sense of familiarity and a feeling of control."

Feeling in control is key, especially when she and primary coaching partner Juris Razgulaevs have five teams competing in Halifax.

Broadcast Partners


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.