TORONTO — She was a freestyle ski pioneer, a perennial X Games winner who championed women’s ski halfpipe becoming an Olympic event. Now, Sarah Burke’s legacy will live on in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Burke, who tragically died at age 29 from a training accident in 2012, headlined the 2014 class named for induction Wednesday.
“I think she’d be pretty overwhelmed, she’d be pretty humbled by the whole thing,” Burke’s father, Gordon, said following the news conference.
“Certainly, she’s had a lot of nice things happen to her lately as far as awards go but this is a special one.
“It’s for all of Canada. I think she’d be grateful.”
Also selected were ski jumper Horst Bulau, cross-country skier Pierre Harvey, hockey player Geraldine Heaney, figure skater Elizabeth Manley and rugby player Gareth Rees. Wheelchair basketball pioneer Tim Frick and basketball coach Kathy Shields were named as builders.
Burke, who spent her early years in Barrie, Ont., before moving to Squamish, B.C., was the first woman to land a 720-, 900- and 1080-degree rotation jump in competition. She was a world champion, a four-time X Games gold medallist and was a driving force in women’s ski halfpipe being included at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
But Burke never got the opportunity to compete in Russia. She died Jan. 19, 2012 while training in Utah.
Gordon Burke said his daughter’s induction will only create more exposure for her sport.
“That was always something she absolutely pushed for harder than anything else was to get more and more people into it, especially girls,” he said. “She loved it so much and had so much fun that she wanted everybody to keep having the same amount of fun she was having.
“As long as she knew everybody was having a good time and living life in a good way, she was happy.”
Manley, 48, who captured the 1988 women’s Olympic figure-skating silver medal in Calgary, said her thoughts immediately turned to her late mother, Joan, when she first learned of her induction.
“My mom was my best friend and my biggest supporter and it’s moments like this when you go, ’Gosh, I wish she was here to share in this great moment with me.”’ Manley said. “But the time between the call and being here made me really appreciate what I’ve done.
“Sometimes as an athlete we don’t sit back and appreciate ourselves enough, we’re always go, go, go. This is something that has made me really realize I am maybe a legacy in figure skating for this country and many, many years after I’m long gone I’ll still be remembered. That’s such a great feeling, it’s really rewarding for me.”
Manley, a native of Belleville, Ont., was a three-time Canadian champion and a silver medallist at the 1988 world championships. She was also the first female skater in Canada to successfully land a triple-double combination jump in competition and in ’88 received the Order of Canada.
But Manley’s biggest battle came off the ice with severe depression. She has made her fight public hoping it can help others deal with mental illness.
“My passion today is working with mental illness and working with teens and youth because I was a teen who struggled and I didn’t have that availability to embrace the help that was available for me,” she said. “There were years and years of people giving to Elizabeth Manley and I feel now standing here it’s my turn to give back and that’s what I’m really about.”
Rees, a 46-year-old native of Duncan, B.C., was one of the most accomplished rugby players Canada has ever produced. He’s the only man to have represented his country —starting every game — in four straight Rugby World Cups (1987, ’91, ’95, and ’99) and remains among the top-10 in all-time tournament scoring. And until recently, Rees was the Canadian team’s all-time leading scorer.
Twice he served as Canada’s captain at the Rugby World Cup (’95, ’99) and played professionally for 10 years, winning scoring titles in France, Wales and England. But ever the team player, Rees deflected the praise for his induction to the other players he shared the field with.
“This says a lot about my teammates, the things we achieved on the world stage and were able to show the world game what Canadians are all about,” he said. “We learned playing rugby here in Canada and were able to take that on the international stage and do well.
“Obviously, as a game rugby is getting more recognition in Canada and that’s great. I think the values of the game are still as true now as when I started playing and the access boys and girls have to play it is very important. And sevens rugby being in the Olympics has changed all that and it’s great to see.”
And although rugby is now an Olympic sport, Rees doesn’t long for the opportunity to turn back time and become an Olympian.