Skating: The National Passion Resumes
By: Scott Russell CBC Sports
To be completely honest assuming the role of “Skater in Residence” this month is quite something from my perspective. After all, I’m not a competitor, a coach or a judge. I’m a broadcaster…a storyteller, who happens to love everything about skating and what it means to the Canadian identity.
Maybe that stems from the fact that I’ve owned a pair of skates and taken to the ice, at least several times a year, for the better part of six decades.
I feel there is something instinctual when it comes to traveling on thin blades over a frozen surface of water. It’s a bit like riding a bike. You never forget. And I guess that qualifies me, and so many like me, to be a bona fide skater.
We are undeniably a nation which thrives in winter and we as a people identify with those who carve out a name for themselves on ice. To me, the skating sports are inextricably linked to our folklore and our sense of self.
A Canadian invented ringette. Hockey is, without question, a national obsession. Speed skating has produced more champions who hail from this country than any other discipline at the Olympic Winter Games.
And figure skating continues to smoulder as something which so many Canadians treat as a common passion. It’s the unique melding of artistry and athleticism where men and women often participate as equal partners, chasing shared accolades on the same field of play.
Skating is something which comes naturally to many people in this country and in spite of changing demographics those who live here still flock to indoor arenas and outdoor ponds in vast numbers.
Canadian Tire, Sport Chek, and Source for Sports continue to do a brisk business selling skates most of which have been manufactured in Canada.
Skating is still a Canadian thing and September is the signal that it’s time to get back to the ice.
It’s been that way for a long time.
“Most young Canadians are born with skates on their feet rather than with silver spoons in their mouths,” former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson once famously said in reference to our collective heartiness.
Or the words of Canadian born, folk musician, Joni Mitchell who described the longing to escape painful bonds in one of the most recorded songs of her career, “River.”
“Gonna quit this crazy scene,” Mitchell wrote. “Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
At the past Olympics, the most watched television event was the gold medal final in the ice dance which was won by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. It far outstripped even the hockey or curling matches involving Canadians.
One of the most successful reality TV shows in the country’s history is returning to the airwaves this fall. “Battle of the Blades,” is all about hockey players and figure skaters navigating the same ice and trying to master foreign yet familiar skills which have to do with skating.
Listen to what figure skater and two-time medalist at the national championships Keegan Messing told Anastasia Bucsis, an Olympic speed skater and the host of CBC Sports’ Players Own Voice podcast, about his appreciation for all kinds of skating.
“I got to put on a pair of speed skates on outdoor ice and I couldn’t believe the effortless glide. I was amazed and humbled by it actually,” Messing enthused.
“I think it would be awesome at the Olympic level to have the three skating disciplines compete against each other in their own gear and see who is fastest off the mark or who can reach the greatest speed or is best at stops and starts. It would be fun.”
For her part Bucsis, now retired, still gets the familiar feeling every September that the ice is calling.
“As soon as I feel that first few hints of fall…my heartbeat quickens and I get a little surge of adrenaline,” she said. “I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. It’s that visceral. I instantly turn into a thoroughbred, champing at the bit to get out and skate.”
That’s what it is… the onset of this season inspires something in many Canadians. It’s all about the speed…the skill…the precision and choreography which goes a long way to revealing the Canadian narrative in these long, winter months.
“It’s all about excitement, a new energy and a fresh chance to recreate myself,” said two-time national pairs champion, Kirsten Moore-Towers who first took to the ice at the Winter Club of St. Catherines, ONT as two-year-old.
“I still love it even at 27 years of age,” she reckoned.
“When I’m on the ice it’s the truest form of me that I’ve ever known.”
As a sports broadcaster, I feel the same way. The skating season means the script of sport in Canada is about to be unveiled in earnest. Each rink represents a new page on which the story will be written.
The heart gets pumping. The blood gets flowing. The pace quickens.
When skate blades slice into the ice the national passion burns bright across the vast landscape of this country.