By the BC Winter Games
Speed skating dates back more than a 1,000 years from the frozen canals and waterways of Scandinavia and the Netherlands.
Men laced with animal bones to their footwear glided across frozen lakes and rivers. A history of the sport on Speed Skating Canada’s website states that by the 1600s, traveling on blades between villages was a useful and enjoyable means of transportation for the Dutch.
The world’s first event was in 1763 covering 24 kilometres on the fens of England. The International Skating Union was formed in the Netherlands in 1892. Canada’s first recorded race was on the St. Lawrence River in 1854.
The sport will now debut in Penticton for the 2016 BC Winter Games, Feb. 25-28. Despite not having a club, the city does have a rising athlete in the sport. Abigail McCluskey, a graduate of Pen High Secondary and a BC Games alumnae, competed in the Vernon 2012 BC Winter Games. She was recently chosen to compete in China for the 2016 ISU World Junior Long Track Championships in March.
McCluskey was coached by Nancy Goplen at Kelowna’s Okangan Regional Training Centre. Goplen is the coach for Zone 2 at the Penticton 2016 BC Winter Games and a former national long and short track team member and a five-time national champion. She won bronze at the 1977 world short track championship.
Goplen said spectators in Penticton can expect to see really fast skating, despite the young age (12 to 15) of the athletes.
“Being able to make passes cleanly, without taking out somebody, is going to be exciting,” said Goplen.
The sport consists of short and long track speed skating. Short track is what spectators will see at the BC Winter Games. The techniques are similar to track racers. Some skaters may prefer to lead from the start with the goal of wearing out their opponent or conserve their energy for the finishing sprint. Short track speed skating is on an 111.12-metre oval. With corners tight and hard to control, boards must be covered with protective mats.
With the passing, Goplen described the relay as “creating energy and passing that energy from one skater to the next through the push. That’s what they are trying to achieve.”
Speed skating will be at the South Okanagan Events Centre from 7 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. on Feb. 26; 7:30 a.m. to 3:07 p.m. on Feb. 27; and 7:30 a.m. to 10:40 a.m. on Feb. 28.
Notable alumnae of the BC Winter Games include sisters Tori, Josie and Sara Spence of Kamloops. They won multiple medals at the 2011 and 2015 Canada Winter Games and are on Canada’s long track development teams.