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Virtue and Moir, St-Pierre, and Ferbey among 2023 Order of Sports recipients

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir - The Canadian Press

GATINEAU, Que. — Scott Moir enjoys hearing about people who tuned in emotionally to watch him skate with partner Tessa Virtue, especially those who otherwise didn't care about ice dance.

“As a boy who grew up wanting to be (Canadian Hockey Hall of Famer) Joe Sakic, it’s especially meaningful when, especially hockey players, are watching ice dance with a tear in their eye,” Moir said.

The figure skating super tandem added another accomplishment to their impressive resumé Thursday, as they headlined the 2023 inductees into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame alongside celebrated mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre.

Eleven individuals were awarded the Order of Sport, the country’s highest sporting honour. The ceremony took place in the great hall of Gatineau’s Museum of History, just across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill.

Virtue, of London, Ont., and Moir, of Ilderton, Ont., won a record-setting five Olympic medals, three World Championships, and eight Canadian National Championships. Of all their accomplishments, winning gold on home ice at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games is perhaps the most iconic.

But Moir said it wasn’t about the colour of medals or the number of trophies. Wearing the Maple Leaf was an accomplishment enough.

“One of the greatest achievements early in our career was when we took the ice and it was announced we were ‘representing Canada.’ We always tried to hold ourselves up to the Canadian standard in sport and hopefully we were able to that,” Moir said.

“What we were doing didn’t feel extraordinary when we were two kids at seven and nine and we were up at 6 a.m. in a hockey arena,” Virtue added. “But today makes those ordinary moments feel rather special.

“To be part of this esteemed group is quite surreal. We’re grateful for what it represents. And we’re excited about the path it paves for generations to come.”

Speakers included Cheryl Bernard, an Olympic medallist in curling and the president and chief executive officer of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame since 2018, and Adam van Koeverden, an Olympic medallist kayaker and Member of Parliament. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recorded a video message for this year’s inductees.

“You here because you are legends,” Trudeau said.

St-Pierre, of Saint-Isidore, Que., retired from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 2019 but his close-cropped haircut and fighting physique remained unmistakable on stage.

He says he was inspired to pursue a career in mixed martial arts after renting a video of the first UFC tournament and seeing legendary Brazilian fighter Royce Gracie in action. He claimed his first welterweight championship in 2006 and finished with an unprecedented career record of 26-2.

Nicknamed “Rush,” St-Pierre is now an actor and advocate for mental health awareness and supportive of anti-bullying initiatives.

“At the beginning it sounded crazy to most of my friends, but I had a lot of support,” St-Pierre said. “Yes, I fight alone in the Octagon. But I’m not alone (outside) the Octagon and in my preparation.”

Members of one of the most successful teams in the history of Canadian curling, “The Ferbey Four,” were inducted together. Led by skip Randy Ferbey, the group included third Dave Nedohin, second Scott Pfeifer and lead Marcel Rocque. The team quickly became a powerhouse and won three world men’s curling championships in the early 2000s, plus four Canadian titles.

Ferbey’s rink, nominated for the Order of Sport by fellow curler Jennifer Jones, used innovative strategies that have left a lasting mark on competitive curling. The team used a number-zone system to communicate weight for draw shots and had a shared approach to decision-making, rather than just deferring to the skip’s leadership.

“What an honour this is for our team to receive this prestigious award today. It’s something we never ever thought we would achieve. We never thought we were good enough. But here we are today,” Ferbey said. “It’s blown us away.”

Rounding out the Class of 2023 was Danielle Peers, a Paralympic bronze medallist in wheelchair basketball. Judo coach Hiroshi Nakamura and decorated lacrosse player Oren Lyons were inducted as builders.

Nakamura, who was born in Tokyo in 1942 and moved to Canada in 1968, led dozens of Canadian judokas to international acclaim. With a hearty laugh, he said he’s still trying to achieve one big goal.

“My objective in Canada was to make judo as popular as hockey,” he said. “But the bar was very high. I’m still working on it.”

The 93-year-old Lyons, who spent most of his life advocating for the rights of Indigenous people in sport, has a far-reaching legacy. Lacrosse is set to be part of the 2028 Olympics, something his father fought for back in 1932.

Lyons spoke of the game as being more than just a ball and a stick.

“It is part of our creation story,” he said.

Peers, who identifies as non-binary, was not able to attend the ceremony but submitted a video focused on diversity and inclusion in sport. They are a long-celebrated wheelchair basketball athlete and broke down barriers by competing with male athletes in the NCAA in 2005. They were MVP of the European Men’s Club Championship in 2006.

Phyliss Bomberry was inducted posthumously. Nicknamed ‘Yogi,’ she was a trailblazing softball star through the 1960s. Bomberry died in 2019 and her brother, Ivan, accepted the award on her behalf.

The winners of the 2023 Tom Longboat Awards, which recognize Indigenous athletes for their contributions to sport in Canada, were wrestler Connor Church of Winnipeg — who won the award for the second year in a row — and dragon boater Trina Ross of Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Manitoba.

Ross, through tears, thanked Dragon Boat Canada for giving her an “opportunity of a lifetime.” Church cited Longboat’s legacy of “perseverance and resilience” as something that serves as daily inspiration for him as he chases his dream of representing Canada at the Olympics.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2023.