To be champion of a nation means a lot

In a country that communes with winter like few others, a national championship involving ice really means something.

So it is that the Brier, which pits province against province, becomes paramount in the sport of curling. For Canadian women, the Tournament of Hearts is equally as treasured. There are many Canadian "cups" to be won — lacrosse has the Mann and the Minto, while junior hockey has the Memorial. They are all national gatherings that crown the best from various regions of a diverse land.

It's hard to beat the tradition and scope of the Canadian figure skating championship.

"It defines the excellence of our sport," says Debbi Wilkes of Skate Canada. She's a two-time national champion in pairs competition and won a silver medal at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics with her teammate Guy Revell.

"The Canadian championship is the culmination of participation and achievement," Wilkes continues. "It's the discovery of what hard work can mean."

At this year's Canadian figure skating championship in Victoria, 300 skaters ranging in age from 12 to 26 will compete for national titles. They've emerged from 1,200 clubs across the country and represent the elite of more than 180,000 registered figure skaters coast to coast to coast.

"That means when we introduce a winner here as the 'champion of Canada' it really carries weight," Wilkes stresses.

And while Patrick Chan and the stars of international acclaim will receive the lion's share of the attention, there are many more winter warriors who covet victory on Canada's main stage of skating.

"It's precious," says Tracy Wilson.

She is a seven-time national champion, an Olympic medallist in ice dance, a coach and broadcaster. In short, Wilson has seen it all when it comes to this sport, but each time she arrives at this national gathering she is renewed.

"It's huge," she says. "To be the Canadian champion is why you skate."

For a big country it is an enormous event.

It is understandable that if you live in a land where ice and skates are a comfortable fit, to be the best of the best is the greatest prize of all.

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