Speedskating body hopes Halifax oval here to stay
The 400-metre track could be used to grow the sport, says Speed Skating Canada
Long-track speedskating wrapped up at the Canada Winter Games on Wednesday at a track national program officials hope has a life beyond the competition.
Built on the Halifax Common in the heart of the city, the 400-metre skating oval has proven a huge hit with athletes.
The original plan was to dismantle the track and distribute the equipment to various facilities around Nova Scotia. But a public campaign by a citizens' group and corporate support has emerged to keep the oval where it is, which has given municipal politicians pause as thousands headed to the ice for recreational skating before the Games.
Dennis Duggan, a national program technical representative with Speed Skating Canada, leaves no room for doubt when asked what he'd like to happen.
"We want them to keep it and we will do everything we can to support that effort," said Duggan.
Duggan said speedskating officials have been doing their best to persuade local politicians about the value of keeping the track. The key, he said, is to demonstrate that the oval has a community value beyond high level sport, although that is important too.
"It's not about elite sport at all, but if you keep it we'll be back," he said.
Halifax regional council has asked for a feasibility study of keeping the oval as a year-round facility.
If it's kept, the Halifax oval would be the fourth artificial ice track in the country. Indoor facilities operate in Calgary and Fort St. John, B.C., and an outdoor oval is used for training in Sainte-Foy, Que. Duggan said there are also a number of natural ice ovals, although none have been built in the Maritimes.
Duggan said if the Games track is kept the potential exists for it to eventually become a regional training centre. However, he said initially it would be a place where young-age group skaters from local clubs would simply develop their talent.
"It's tougher, if not impossible, if you can't have a facility on which to train," he said.
Manitoba speedskater Kelsey Reilly said the oval would be key in developing the sport in Nova Scotia and in helping to attract future national-level competitions.
The 17-year-old from Winnipeg has her sights set on training with the junior national program in Calgary next year and credits the existence of a natural ice oval in her hometown in helping with her development.
"That makes a huge difference," said Reilly.
It's a difference experienced by Nova Scotia skater Noah Ferguson-Losier, who normally has to train on cramped short-track courses inside hockey arenas.
The 15-year-old said the Halifax oval's short existence has already contributed to some improvement in his long-track skills.
"I have improved in my endurance and even my technique a little bit," he said.
The annual cost to operate the facility has been estimated at $250,000.
The city would also have to lay a permanent surface so the oval could be used in both winter and summer for various sporting activities.