Champions: A Love Story


"Skating is filled with stories that are very intense - the romances, the hatreds. I don't think that story's ever been told. Skating is a loose fraternity. They share something, the early morning practice, the rigorous training. It's like war veterans without the pall of death." - John Sacret Young, "The Eugene Register-Guard", January 13, 1979

Joy LeDuc and Jimmy McNichol

'Figure skater and hockey player team up and take on the world.' It was the plot of the highly popular 1992 film "The Cutting Edge", which spawned three forgettable sequels. It was also the basis of the hugely popular CBC reality series Battle Of The Blades and the short-lived professional career of Natalia Mishkutenok and Craig Shepherd. It was also the theme of a forgotten television movie from the late seventies: "Champions, A Love Story".


The film's writer-producer, John Sacret Young, didn't come from a figure skating background. Like the male lead in his film, he was initially a hockey player that "wouldn't be caught dead on figure skates." He drew his inspiration for the 'boy meets girl' skating flick after an encounter with the father of a figure skater who worked three jobs to keep his daughter in skating. Sadly, he also drew inspiration in his writing from the 1961 Sabena Crash and another plane crash that killed a young skater on his way to a regional competition. The film first aired on CBS in prime time on January 13, 1979.


The young stars of the film were Brantford born Joy LeDuc and Jimmy McNichol, the brother of Empty Nest star Kristy McNichol. The supporting cast included Tony Lo Bianco, Anne Schedden, Jennifer Warren, Shirley Knight and Richard Jaeckel. While LeDuc was a seasoned pro at sixteen - she toured with the Ice Follies in a family skating act - McNichol was an inexperienced skater who took to the ice every day for seven months to prepare for the role. In the January 13, 1979 interview with Jerry Buck, Young said McNichol was "a gifted natural athlete, but still an adolescent klutz."

The made for television film has been largely overlooked as it came out on the heels of the hugely popular "Ice Castles" film that was released only a year before. Although the story ended on a happy note, the fact that McNichol's character was killed off in a plane crash ultimately drew more attention to the Sabena Crash amongst general audiences who may have forgotten the tragedy. Nothing wrong with a little edutainment, especially if it relates to skating history.

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