At the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Oktoberfest means something entirely different than it does in Germany. It means it’s time for some short-track speed skating.
Whitehorse’s Heather Clarke was one of over 50 female skaters competing at the Short Track Oktoberfest competition over the weekend at the oval.
While placing high is always nice, the meet was primarily a chance to register fast enough times to qualify for national events in December. Clark, who is a member of the Whitehorse Rapids Speed Skating Club, did just that.
“The whole weekend went pretty well,” said the 17-year-old. “I made a lot of improvements throughout the weekend, got some personal bests.
“It’s mostly about getting good times, and we also did a lot on strategy.”
Competition was particularly fierce at Oktoberfest. With the Calgary Oval hosting a world cup event this weekend, skaters from around the world were on the ice.
Clarke made significant progress in the 1,500-metre event on Friday. Clarke shaved three seconds off her previous best time, finishing in two minutes and 30.9 seconds, and was the eighth fastest in the final out of 53 skaters.
She also knocked a second off her 500-metre, finishing in 48 seconds flat.
Those times should help her return to the Canadian Junior Championships and the qualifier for the Canadian Short Track Championships in December.
“The juniors takes the 1,500-metre time and the 500-metre time and I improved both of those times, so hopefully it helps me secure a spot in those competitions,” said Clarke.
“I’ll be in the same category, but the times are getting faster every year – everyone is getting faster every year.
“And also it’s in Eastern Canada this year so more Quebec skaters might go to that one. Last year it was in Calgary and if the Quebec skaters aren’t top-20, they won’t bother going all the way out to Calgary.”
“I’m pretty sure I’ll have a spot in it, but you never really know.”
Clarke was the only Yukoner to compete at the Canadian Junior Championships last December at the Olympic Oval in Calgary. After four events, Clarke finished 30th overall at the championships.
She was also the first female skater from the Yukon to compete at the Canadian Short Track Championships at the end of March. At the event Clarke won bronze in the 1,500-metre event on her way to finishing fifth overall in women’s junior B (17-and-under).
The bronze represents the best-ever finish by a Yukon skater at the championships.
Just before the championships in March, Clarke won five medals at the Arctic Winter Games and set a record in the 777-metre event with a time of 1:17.17.
This season is her second training in Calgary with the Olympic Oval Program, established shortly after the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games.
“This is my second year in the program and it’s really good,” said Clarke. “I’m constantly making improvements and getting better and better. I’m really happy with it. The training is good and the coaches are good.”
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