Top speed skaters heading for B.C. after Calgary's oval suffers ice malfunction

The Olympic Oval was Canada's long-track speed skating team's home base for training before a malfunction on Sept. 5 hit the facility's ability to freeze and chill ice, and left the athletes in limbo.

Athletes off to Fort St. John after supplementing training with inline skates, WinSport short track

Calgarian Gilmore Junio is a veteran member of Canada's long-track speed skating team who will now be practising at Fort St. John, B.C. (Vegard Wivestad/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada's top speed skaters are leaving Calgary to train in B.C. after a mechanical failure left the Olympic Oval without ice since early September.

The Olympic Oval was Canada's long-track speed skating team's home base for training before a malfunction on Sept. 5 hit the facility's ability to freeze and chill ice, and left the athletes in limbo.

On Oct. 14, a statement on the Olympic Oval's website said the issue is being investigated and equipment would be sourced so that it could resume operations — in late January at the earliest.

"The oval recognizes that this has a significant impact to high-performance athletes and the public," the statement read in part. "Please know that we are working extremely hard to repair the issue."

The team is now heading to the city of Fort St. John, in northeastern B.C., on Nov. 1 for a two-week training camp there.

"As a long-track speed skater trying to prepare for competitions, [no ice] is a bit of a problem," said Gilmore Junio, a veteran member of the national long-track speed skating team, on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"We've been kind of making do with different modes of training, but with the potential competition returning in 2021 and — big picture — preparing for the Olympics for 2022, we felt that we needed to try to get on some ice."

Oval subs inline skates for ice

Since the ice failed at the oval, Junio said the team has been skating short track at WinSport.

The oval has also been allowing the skaters to use the cement floor to practise on inline skates, and while it recreates some aspects of the sport, according to Junio, they're chasing the feel of the ice.

"We just get on some wheels and and, you know, roll around the oval, which has been a bit different … but generally, a little bit of the same idea," Junio said.

"But it's definitely that feel that we're looking for, which is why we're heading up to Fort St. John … to get that ice feeling back, and a bit of that speed and that pace that we're used to."

Plus, athletes on the team can skate at speeds that are sometimes more than 60 kilometres an hour going into their last corner, Junio said.

Recreating those speeds on pavement, and where falls are less forgiving, simply isn't possible.

"It's a bit sketchy for me still. I haven't quite figured it out," Junio said. "Falling on ice is a bit different than tumbling on cement, or just sticking to the cement."

Despite cancellations, team remains focused

The Pomeroy Sport Centre in Fort St. John features a covered speed skating oval and a pair of hockey rinks.

It's also the home of Olympic champion speed skater Denny Morrison, and has a great speed skating community, Junio said.

 "We're super, super grateful that the Fort St. John community is, you know, able to have us," Junio said.

While there are no international events for the Canadian speed skating team before 2021 because of the pandemic, Junio said the team is keeping its focus.

"We don't want to fall behind in our preparations and we want to make sure that we're coming to any competition prepared, let alone the Olympics," Junio said. 

"We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can so that, come 2022 when we're representing Canada, [it's] hopefully at the best of our ability."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener, Jesse Campigotto, and The Canadian Press


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