A gold medal-winning performance at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games last month in St. Albert, Alta., has put Whitehorse’s Michael Sumner on track to compete at the world championships.
With his first-place finish in Level 1 figure skating at the Winter Games, the 15-year-old has been invited onto Team Canada to compete at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea, it was announced at the 2012 Special Olympics Festival Dinner Auction in Whitehorse on Saturday.
“I was about to scream in front of the whole audience there at the Special Olympics banquet,” said Sumner. “I’m nervous and excited at the same time. I’m excited because I get to go to the worlds for the first time.”
“I’m really proud of him,” said coach Michelle Gorczyca. “He’s worked really hard this year. He’s been training on ice twice a week. He’s in a Special Olympics group and I was working with him an hour each week, one on one to help prepare him for nationals.”
Sumner, who was the youngest member of the Special Olympics Yukon team in St. Albert at just 14, has been figure skating for five years.
He was the first male Yukon figure skater to medal at a national Games and, consequently, will be the first male figure skater from the Yukon to compete at the World Winter Games.
“It’s fantastic. I’m so proud of him,” said Amber Church, program director of Special Olympics Yukon. “It’s really well deserved. He worked incredibly hard. I can’t wait to see him go and compete as part of Team Canada.
“He was the youngest member of the team who went to the national Games in February-March, so it’s incredible for him to qualify and now move on to Korea.”
Sumner won over both the judges and the spectators at the Winter Games. Performing a routine to the music of Charlie Brown, wearing a Charlie Brown outfit, he quickly became the crowd-favourite.
“He had a floor hockey team come watch him – he made so many friends,” said Gorczyca. “He’s so personable and got so much support from people he met at the Games.”
“I like to talk with people and it was fun to go down there for my first national Games with Team Yukon,” said Sumner. “I introduced myself (to people) and told them when I was skating and all that jazz.”
Sumner qualified for the Canada Winter Games by winning silver at the B.C. provincial championships just over a year ago.
“He carries great speed when he skates and is really strong,” said Gorczyca. “He’s quite a performer. He proved to be quite a competitor and he really seemed to thrive off the crowd and the cheering.”
When Sumner competes at the worlds beginning at the end of January, he will be only the sixth Special Olympics Yukon athlete to represent Canada at that level.
The Yukon’s Cathrine Hall competed in figure skating at the worlds in 1993 and later competed at the worlds in cross-country skiing in 1997 with her brother, Daniel Hall.
Two of Sumner’s teammates last month, Garry Chaplin and Owen Munroe, have also competed at the worlds, both in cross-country skiing.
Chaplin skied at the 2005 World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, winning a gold, silver and bronze. Munroe competed at the 2009 World Winter Games in Idaho, winning two bronze medals.
“It’s great news, I’m very proud of him, and now we have a year of hard work ahead of us to prepare for worlds,” added Gorczyca.
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