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Michael Slipchuk honoured for his role in Canada's 'golden age' of figure skating

This year's recipients of the Canadian Sport Awards are proof that the country can boast an unrivalled roster of achievers across the board. As CBC Sports host Scott Russell writes, that also includes people like Skate Canada high-performance director Michael Slipchuk, who worked behind the scenes to produce champions in a sport that has long been considered a treasured element of Canadian sporting folklore.

Skate Canada high-performance director wins Lifetime Achievement Award

In this 2012 file photo, Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan, right, chats with Mike Slipchuk, centre, during a practice session at the national figure skating championships in Moncton, N.B. (File/The Canadian Press)

When it comes to sport and depth of talent spanning the many seasons, Canada continues to punch well above its weight.

The territory is huge, the climate can be harsh, and the population is relatively small. Still, in summer and winter, and in a diversity of athletic endeavour, this country produces a myriad of champions on and off the fields of play.

Canadians are major international players who not only claim titles and medals but also continue to lead the way towards an acceptance of sport which is more inclusive, accessible, safe and fair.

This year's recipients of the Canadian Sport Awards (listed below), sponsored by the advocacy group AthletesCAN, are proof positive that the country can boast an unrivalled roster of achievers across the board.

They comprise an eclectic group of winners at the highest level from the snow sports, beach volleyball, wheelchair basketball, tennis, track and field, soccer and bobsleigh. But there are also influencers who break down barriers for indigenous Canadians, corporate citizens who provide opportunities for ambitious Olympians and socially conscious athletes who raise awareness of the necessity for sport to be conducted with integrity.

There are also leaders who work behind the scenes to produce champions in sports which have long been considered treasured elements of the Canadian folklore.

The golden age of Canadian figure skating

The example is the winner of the 2019 Leadership in Sport award, former national champion figure skater Michael Slipchuk, who has served as Skate Canada's High Performance Director since 2007. In his dozen years at the helm of ice competition, Slipchuk has presided over what might be called the golden age of Canadian figure skating.

Slipchuk, a Canadian champion in 1992, and an Olympian at Albertville, France the same season, has embraced an environment which has witnessed skating legends of the past turning their attention to producing the next wave of outstanding performers.

During Slipchuk's tenure, Canadian figure skaters have won 25 medals at the senior world championships and recorded nine podium results at the Olympics. Included are 10 world titles and three Olympic championships. The topper, Slipchuk believes, is a gold medal in figure skating's team event at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in 2018 which is reflective of an overarching Canadian approach to the sporting experience.

"It should be seen as a privilege to compete for your country," he says.

"I think the passion is there for skating in this country. It will always be there. Our champions are great people and humble people. The fans of skating continue to relate to that. Being a strong team is what it's all about and we wanted to build a team environment, first and foremost."

'All in it together'

In the past 12 years, Slipchuk has witnessed a Canadian world champion ascending the podium in each of figure skating's five disciplines, including synchronized skating.

No other country can boast that accomplishment, including the sport's acknowledged superpower — Russia.

"They were the best skating group in the world," Slipchuk beams. "During those years we had an older team. We had peaks and valleys but they were all in it together as a team. The team gold in Pyeongchang will always be very special to me."

As an early proponent of figure skating's revamped judging system and as an international, technical specialist, Slipchuk has also modernized the Canadian figure skating landscape by fostering a more complete approach to a demanding and skilled sport.

Under his watchful eye, there is more comprehensive support available to elite skaters who need the benefits of sport psychologists, nutritionists, strength and conditioning experts, and physical therapists. 

"With Own the Podium there was an onus on us to create a sports science community," Slipchuk explains. "We've worked hard to build a network of sports science which our athletes can access. In the time before it was up to each athlete and coach to work it out. Now we've created a network they can all tap into."

Rebuilding phase underway

As it is with all leaders in sport, sustaining success is a tricky thing to do. With the retirement from international competition of superstar champions like Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir, Kaetlyn Osmond, Meagan Duhamel, Eric Radford and Patrick Chan, Canadian figure skating faces an inevitable makeover.

"We're in a big rebuilding phase," Slipchuk acknowledges. "It's going to be very tough because the level of international skating rises all the time.  You can come up so fast now.  It's a daunting prospect but it's also very exciting."

Still, the commitment to excellence remains. As someone who seeks to maximize performance, Michael Slipchuk isn't ready to rest on his laurels.  

He's in for the long haul.

"I recognized pretty early on that figure skating is my life," he says.  

"This is what I know the most about and most importantly, this is what I love."

Like all those being celebrated at this year's Canadian Sport Awards, Michael Slipchuk is a leader who shares a common character trait. He has an overriding passion for the games we play as a nation and, more importantly, how we play them.

Canadian Sport Award Winners 2019

Summer Sport Performance

Female Athlete of the Year: Bianca Andreescu – Tennis

Male Athlete of the Year: Aaron Brown – Athletics

Team of the Year: Beach Volleyball – Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes

Winter Sport Performance

Female Athlete of the Year: Marielle Thompson – Ski Cross

Male Athlete of the Year: Mikael Kingsbury – Freestyle Skiing Moguls

Team of the Year: Four-man Bobsleigh – Justin Kripps, Cam Stones, Ben Coakwell, Ryan Sommer

Influencers

Bruce Kidd Athlete Leadership Award: Stephanie Dixon – Paralympics

AthletesCAN Social Responsibility Award: Evan Dunfee – Athletics

Leadership in Sport Award: Michael Slipchuk – Skate Canada

True Sport Award: Christine Sinclair – Soccer

Inclusion Award – Obliterating Barriers in Sport: Michael Linklater – 3 on 3 Basketball 

#AthleteVoice Award – Representative of the Year: Beckie Scott – WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency)

People's Choice Award – Performance of the Year: Bianca Andreescu – Tennis

Corporate Excellence – National Initiative Support: RBC Training Ground

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