Young speed skaters in the NWT are training even harder than usual and it’s not just the anticipation of the 2014 Arctic Winter Games (AWG) that’s egging them on, it’s Michael Gilday.
Gilday, a short track speed skater from the NWT who recently made Team Canada, is now a step closer to qualifying for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia 2014.
“Michael’s a great role model,” said Shane Clark, coach of the Yellowknife speed skating club. “He’s just a good example of what you can accomplish being a Northern kid and working hard if that’s something you want to pursue.”
Clark said speed skating has been growing in popularity as an alternative to other ice sports such as hockey or figure skating in the NWT.
Currently there are six speed skating clubs in the territory, the newest of which is in Hay River. Fort Smith’s speed skating club has been in limbo for much of the season while repairs were made to the town’s arena following a fire this year.
While roughly 200 young skaters are signed up in the clubs, many are in the Learn to Skate program and not at a competitive level.
Learn to Skate programs have seen increasing participation, particularly in Yellowknife, with youth as young as 3 years old signing up, Jill Gilday, sport director with the NWT Amateur Speed Skating Association, told The Journal.
“We have so many kids that come to our programs because their parents want them to learn to skate, but the kids have experienced too many cold fingers and toes in the past and they come hesitant, but they always end up having a good time,” she said.
While youth generally start out in hockey skates or figure skates, the club offers speed skates to those willing to try them out.
Gilday estimates 45 speed skaters will be competing in the AWG trials in January. Four female and four male skaters from two age groups will qualify to represent the NWT.
“The coaches are working with them right now on lots of technical conditioning and upping their fitness levels so come the territorial trials in January, they’ll be at the top of their game,” Gilday said.
NWT skaters encouraged to record laps
In a move to encourage the Canadian speed skating team, an initiative called Skate to Sochi was launched on Nov. 15, asking speed skating clubs across the country to log laps with the goal of recording a distance equivalent to that between Ottawa and Sochi.
The Yellowknife speed skating club was the first in the country to sign up for the task and has been pumping out laps ever since.
The city hosted a public Skate to Sochi event in November at its brand-new outdoor skating oval where 800 laps were logged, amounting to around 160 km.
In Inuvik, where the speed skating club expects around seven of its athletes to try out for the AWG, Skate to Sochi has helped encourage youth to give it their all, coach Theresa Ross said.
“It’s a fun way for the kids to do laps and they are meaningful then. It’s a lot of fun for them,” she said. “Having Michael there helps them relate to it more, too.”
The NWT association is currently tracking the laps garnered by skaters and skating clubs in the territory and recording them daily online at http://www.nwtspeedskating.ca/node/93.
Gilday said she encourages anyone with a pair of skates to record their laps and send them in to be included in the Skate to Sochi count.