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It is not uncommon for success to carry great athletes far, far away from their roots and the places they once called home.

Not for Karen Magnussen, who can be found most days at the same Vancouver skating club where, as a youngster, she honed her talents into stardom.

Thirty-six years after she retired from competitive skating, Magnussen, 57, remains as involved in the sport, spending her time coaching the stars of tomorrow at the North Shore Winter Club where she is director of skating and head coach.

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"It's the club that I started out in before moving on to national and international competition," Magnussen said. "I work with little ones to junior national skaters, and I enjoy every minute of it."

"I'm finding a lot of kids whose parents grew up watching me. The dads will say, 'We were in front of the TV in the rec room watching you and now my son is taking lessons from you.' "

Magnussen's record of accomplishments has remained unmatched among Canadian women since she retired from competitive figure skating in 1973.

She was a five-time Canadian champion, an Olympic silver medalist at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Games and her world championship in 1973 is a feat no Canadian woman has been able to accomplish since.

After leaving competitive skating, Magnussen travelled with Ice Capades for four years before moving to her husband's home town of Boston, where she took up coaching.

After 11 years in the United States, a desire to be closer to her roots and family brought her back to the North Shore club, where she reunited with her former coach, Linda Brauckmann. The two were inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 1996, and worked together until Brauckmann retired from the coaching four years ago.

Working with young skaters is a passion for Magnussen, who emphasizes the fundamentals of good skating as the critical foundation on which they will learn the jumps and spins that define the modern sport.

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"Making them technically sound is really exciting and seeing them come along and get better and better," she said. "You see their whole body language change as they understand technique and get better and better and are able to do the different jumps.

"We really work the basics, basic strong skating, because, if you can't, the jumping and the spinning just fall off the map since you can't keep up with the technical part of having to skate in and out of things."

Part of Magnussen's emphasis on skating fundamentals comes from her appreciation for her competitive days, when compulsory figures were a big part of the sport. Though Magnussen is recalled as an athlete who helped usher in an era with more emphasis on free skating, with compulsory figures eventually becoming phased out altogether, she believes doing figures is still an important part of a skater's development.

"You can't do anything in skating without those, so every coach has to be working on that with their skaters," she said. "Instead of doing figures on a patch of ice we do it in a more free form, but we still have to get skaters back to basics."

Magnussen's expertise has not been limited to figure skaters, with much of her time becoming devoted to training hockey players as well.

She first became interested in working with hockey players back in Boston, when she was approached by hockey legend Bobby Orr, who wanted her to work with a local high-school player named Bobby Carpenter. Carpenter went on to have an 18-year career in the NHL.

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"[Orr]had contacted me and said, 'You have to come see this kid and tell me what kind of skater he is,' " Magnussen said. "He was the first hockey player I worked with."

When she and her family returned to Vancouver in the late 1980s, she signed her two sons up for hockey but found the sport had no specific skating instruction.

"I was horrified to find there was no component of skating once they got their gear on," she said. "So I volunteered with the team to help them with their skating skills and they went from winning nothing to scoring lots of goals. A dad from another team saw what I did and other coaches noticed what I did."

Over the years, her NHL clients have spanned a wide variety of players, from Cliff Ronning and Dave Babych to Brendan Morrison and Kyle Turris.

"I've worked with [players]who have been to the Western Hockey League and the National Hockey League," she said. "Just from the North Shore club alone there have been 25 players who were drafted to the NHL."

So what does Magnussen try to develop in hockey players that they might be lacking?

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"The consistency in their stride and being able to stay down," she said. "I have three rules: head up, stick on the ice and bend your knees. You have to have soft knees. You want a hockey player to do everything with their head up. And when they skate the same with or without the puck, that's an incredible thing.

"Whether you're a hockey player, speed skater or figure skater, it's that connection of blade to the ice and that ability to convert power, movement and energy. It comes from knowing where you are over the blade."


Career highlights

Domestic titles: Canadian junior figure-skating champion (1965), Canadian women's champion (1968, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973).

International success: World championship bronze medal (1971), silver (1972), gold (1973); Olympic silver medal (1972).

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Awards: Captured the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award and Velma Springstead Trophy in 1973, as Canada's female athlete of the year; named an officer of the Order of Canada.


At 15, became the youngest Canadian figure skater to compete in the Olympics at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble. She finished seventh.

Inducted into Canada's Sport Hall of Fame, Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame and Skate Canada Hall of Fame.

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