During his career as a brakeman for Canada’s national bobsleigh team, Justin “Juice” Wilkinson trained to be ready for every twist and turn on the icy track.
But he wasn’t prepared for the abrupt end of Sarah Storey’s tenure as president and acting chief executive when the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) annual general meeting resumed Saturday night at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
In March, after BCS had a disappointing Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics campaign, Wilkinson was among dozens of current and former sliders who demanded Storey and high performance director Chris Le Bihan resign over a combination of toxic culture, inadequate safety, lack of transparency and poor governance. The BCS scandal was the first mass-uprising of athletes in a year of upheaval across the Canadian sport system.
“We were pretty nervous that she may end up having the right amount of votes to win,” Wilkinson admitted in an interview.
The meeting originally began Sept. 29 in Calgary and more than 90 athletes were preparing to vote Storey out and sport physiologist Tara McNeil into office. Storey tabled the annual financial report, but refused to allow a vote on her leadership due to alleged concerns over membership eligibility. The meeting was postponed to the 2010 Winter Olympics track, just two days before a deadline under federal law.
At Whistler, Storey read her president’s report. What Wilkinson said was traditionally around five minutes stretched to 20. Then Storey dropped the bombshell: after two terms, she would not put her name forward for a third.
“It ended up being very anticlimactic, that she would just choose [to not continue],” Wilkinson said. “This was probably really the only way that she could save face, to not be defeated in a vote, and not to admit blame by stepping down or giving in to what the athletes were asking for.”
Storey’s decision meant McNeil was elected by acclamation. McNeil was a guest coach at the Calgary Stampeders’ training camp last spring and has consulted for BCS, Canadian Luge Association, WinSport and the Canadian Sport Institute.
BCS declined a reporter’s request to attend the meeting or observe it via web conference.
Wilkinson said there was an awkward moment in which Storey tried to downplay her dual role. She said she had never truly been the acting CEO. Instead, she volunteered her time to perform some of the duties of CEO. The Canadian Sport Governance Code stated that no board member should be chief executive during their term as a director.
"Why now is she disputing that and not having clarified that sooner? So it was very odd.”
Frustration with Storey’s leadership had festered since her original 2014 election. As vice-president, she helped draft a new version of BCS bylaws in 2013 and was accused of using those new rules to win the presidency.
Father Bob Storey is the former Olympic bobsledder and International Bobsleigh Skeleton Federation (IBSF) president and her brother Max is an Olympic bid and organizing consultant.
Storey may have foreshadowed her decision when she announced Oct. 28 that BCS had signed-on to the independent Abuse Free Sport program, which means BCS would finally come under the jurisdiction of the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner. The office had rejected an initial complaint on Aug. 1 because BCS had not joined the program.
The transition is to be complete by Jan. 17. In the meantime, Toronto’s Lattal Law continues to receive any complaints from BCS members who have experienced or witnessed abuse.
“It's too bad that can't happen faster. But that is something that's finally going to happen,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said athletes hope new leadership means they can resume their focus on the sport. The 2022-2023 BMW IBSF World Cup tour opens Nov. 24-26 at the Whistler track.
“The last eight years, to me, have felt very adversarial, from the leadership of BCS from the president down to the management staff,” he said. “The athletes were definitely looked at as adversaries, not as partners.”