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Canada’s Soerensen says he deserves to be at figure skating worlds amid sexual assault allegation | CBC Sports

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Ice dancer Nikolaj Soerensen believes he and partner Laurence Fournier Beaudry deserve to compete for Canada at the figure skating world championships this month amid sexual assault allegations surrounding the Danish-Canadian athlete.

“We’re here today because we feel like we deserve to be here,” Soerensen said Wednesday at Bell Centre, the site of the world championships set for March 18 to 24.

Soerensen and Fournier Beaudry withdrew from the Canadian championship in Calgary in January after USA Today reported earlier that month an American figure skating coach and former skater accused Soerensen of sexually assaulting her in Hartford, Conn., in 2012. Soerensen was 23 at the time.

The allegations have not been proven in court. The now-34-year-old Soerensen reiterated his position Wednesday after calling the allegations false in an Instagram post in January.

In that post, he stated the pair withdrew from nationals because they felt it would be a distraction, saying “sportsmanship must continue to be the focus of the event.”

Asked what’s changed since nationals to make it less of a distraction, Soerensen said the news was fresh at the time.

“[It was] really tough mentally for us to be there [at nationals],” he said. “We’re following all the measures and the rules and believe that we should be here now.”

Soerensen and Fournier Beaudry returned to competition for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai at the end of January, winning a silver medal.

WATCH | Fournier Beaudry, Soerensen take silver at Four Continents:

Canada’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen skate to ice dance silver in Shanghai

The Canadian pair put up a season-best performance in China to take second place at Four Continents.

Skate Canada stands by invite

Skate Canada chief executive officer Debra Armstrong said the federation did not consider leaving the duo off the Canadian team for worlds.

“We have selection criteria, which [has been] published for a long period of time,” she said. “We choose athletes to attend events on the basis of selection criteria, and that’s what we did.”

Soerensen and Fournier Beaudry placed fifth at last year’s worlds and currently rank fifth in the International Skating Union’s ice dance standings.

Skate Canada says Soerensen’s case is now in the hands of Canada’s Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which opened in 2022 to be an independent handler of abuse reports and complaints in federally-funded sports organizations.

“As a Canadian national sport organization, we are required to participate in that program. Once we participate in that program, we step back so it is to be managed entirely by the independent process,” Armstrong said. “Skate Canada has no further management of matters once Abuse-Free Sport takes them on.”

“My position is, Skate Canada, as a signatory to Abuse-Free Sport, will do everything that we are required to do to uphold safe sport practices in this country,” Armstrong added. “I can confirm we have done that.”

Soeresen co-operating with investigation

Soerensen said he is fully co-operating with OSIC’s investigation, but added Wednesday he could not comment on its details.

“I believe that the truth will come out eventually,” he said. “I still deny the allegations.”

Soerensen and Fournier Beaudry teamed up in 2012 and competed for Denmark until 2018 before switching to Canada. They represented Canada at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, finishing ninth, and won a national championship last year.

Fournier Beaudry called dealing with the allegations “difficult” and “a challenge” but said she supports her partner. Soerensen said “it was extremely difficult and “it’s been something that has been weighing on us a lot.”

Other members of Canada’s world championships team are trying to focus on their skating ahead of the first worlds on home soil since London 2013 but admit the situation is distracting.

Ice dancer Marjorie Lajoie, who partners with Zachary Lagha, said the situation hits close to home as someone who studies sexual health and plans to pursue an education in sexology and psychology.

“I’m going into that field to make changes,” said Lajoie, who noted they’ve trained alongside Soerensen and Fournier Beaudry for a long time. “I’m thinking of everyone involved. It’s a difficult situation.

“It’s so hard. Like it’s very hard for me. I’m torn.”

Focus on ice for other skaters

Paul Poirier, the reigning world championships ice dance bronze medallist with Piper Gilles, is hoping for a thorough investigation to ensure a fair outcome for the complainant.

“The important thing is that it gets a full investigation,” he said.

In the meantime, Poirier and Gilles are doing their best to focus on climbing up the world podium amid the dark cloud of Soerensen’s allegation.

“We want our focus to be on our own skating, there’s already so much with a competition of this level, there’s a lot of pressure, it’s very difficult to skate to the level we want to,” Poirier said. “We want to be on top of the world podium, so all our energy, all our focus is there and really we’re thinking about that right now.”

Montreal was originally scheduled to host the 2020 world championships before they were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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