Warming temperatures worry speed skaters as contest nears

After a disappointing cancellation last year, Ottawa speed skating organizers are hoping the ice at the Brewer Park oval will be ready to go for this weekend's championships.

Provincial long-track championships taking place at Brewer Park oval

Eric Lecompte, president of the Ottawa Pacers Speed Skating Club, said organizers still have work to do to make sure the ice at the Brewer Park oval is ready for this weekend's provincial long-track championships. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

After a disappointing cancellation last year, Ottawa speed skating organizers are hoping the ice at the Brewer Park oval will be ready to go for this weekend's championships.

But with above-freezing temperatures on tap for the next few days, they're far from certain. 

"It's not going to help," said Eric Lecompte, president of the Ottawa Pacers Speed Skating Club. "We're hoping that we have a thick enough base not to lose the oval again this year."

The Ottawa Pacers are co-hosting the provincial long-track championships alongside the Gloucester Concordes on Saturday and Sunday, with around 80 skaters from across Ontario registered for the 2019 event.

Just days before last year's championships, warm temperatures decimated the unrefrigerated ice surface, prompting organizers to cancel the event for the second time in three years.

The event was also cancelled in 2016 amid similarly warm temperatures.

The local speed skating clubs have been gearing up to host the provincial long track championships this weekend. We check in on the conditions at the Brewer Oval. 5:29

Athletes head south

The cancellations have prompted some Ontario athletes to head to refrigerated ovals in Milwaukee and Lake Placid, N.Y., in order to rack up qualifying times needed for national championships, Lecompte​ said.

"It's obviously not a good thing. We want our athletes to be able to compete in Ontario," he said. "It keeps their costs down and it's good for the province."

If this weekend's championship is cancelled, Eric Lecompte, president of the Ottawa Pacers Speed Skating Club, says skaters will need to compete out of the province, or the country. 0:47

With the uncertainty surrounding the event, the number of registered skaters has dropped, Lecompte​ said. Past competitions drew more than 100 competitors, he said.

The number of days that the oval has actually been usable has dropped precipitously as well, putting the club's long-track program at risk, he said. Some seasons, skaters have been able to use the oval for more than 50 days.

Last year, it was only open for 23.

The ice on the oval is currently insulated by fresh snowfall, Lecompte said, which will hopefully stop it from melting too much in the above-freezing temperatures expected over the next few days. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Temperatures are expected to plunge again heading into the weekend, giving organizers one last chance to get the ice into shape, Lecompte​ said.

"We still have a lot of hours of work to do in order to get the ice in as pristine conditions as we can in order to host the championships."