Rapids skaters take in last races before Winter Games

With no other events between now and the Canada Winter Games in February, four Rapids speed skaters got their last taste of competition over the weekend before they head to Halifax.

With no other events between now and the Canada Winter Games in February, four Rapids speed skaters got their last taste of competition over the weekend before they head to Halifax.

Competing at the Edmonton Winter Classic against skaters from throughout western Canada, the four Rapids athletes, who make up Team Yukon’s speed skating contingent for the Winter Games, had some mixed results.

Yukon’s Donald Fortune, who was in the top boys’ division, produced some consistent results, taking bronze in all three events: the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-metre.

“I think Donald had a good experience learning about racing because we don’t often get the opportunity to race,” said Rapids head coach Phil Hoffman. “He got to see what the competition will be like and, for sure, learned some things about racing – the kind of strategy to implore during races.”

No stranger to major Games, Fortune has competed in three Arctic Winter Games, most recently winning two silvers and a bronze in March.

Heather Clarke, who won two golds and a bronze at the Arctic Games this year, will be one to watch in Halifax. However, this past weekend in the top girls’ division, Clarke took a fall in the semifinal of the 1,000-metre, hitting her head on a protective mat. While not seriously injured, the accident took her out for the rest of the competition.

“I led for most of the race – I was out in front – and then I was passed, and I guess I was just focused on catching up again,” said Clarke. “I think my technique went downhill a little bit and I wasn’t staying as low as I should have been. Then I lost my balance in the corner and flipped out.”

With no other competitions before the Games, and only one other under her belt this season, Clarke is uncertain how prepared she’ll be in Halifax.

“I had the (required) times last year, so I’ve been set to go for awhile,” said Clarke. “It’s kind of frustrating because the only other meet I went to this year was in Abbotsford. It was a BC/Canada Games trials, so I couldn’t skate with any of the Canada Games skaters from BC. I was put in a different category and I didn’t have anybody close to my speed, so I didn’t have any competition for that one.

“Then this one in Edmonton didn’t go well, so I’m feeling a little unprepared for the Games, but I think I’ll be OK.”

Yukon’s Shea Hoffman, who won three medals including a gold at the Arctic Games, snagged some strong results in the second tier, coming second in the 500-metre and third in the 1,500-metre. Despite a qualifying round penalty, Shea struggled up from ninth to third in the 1,000-metre for bronze. With his three races Shea pulled in the most points out of the Yukon skaters with 1,642.

“My races, to me, seemed pretty good and fast,” said the soft-spoken skater.

Emily Klassen, who was the Yukon Amateur Speed Skating Association’s Most Improved Athlete of the Year at the Sport Yukon’s Awards Night at the start of the month, competed in the girls’ second tier, taking sixth in the 500-metre, eighth in the 1,500-metre and 10th in the 1,00-metre.

“It was a good learning experience for all of them,” said Hoffman. “They were all in good divisions for them to get some good competition with skaters of similar ability, so they could work on passing and things like that.

“At the Canada Games, when they get through the sorting round, they will be in divisions of similar ability.”

In their only other competition of the season so far, the BC Cup/Canada Games Selections last month in Abbotsford, BC, Clarke skated incident free, winning her division with four first-place finishes, including the above events and a 3,000-metre race.

“There Heather won her division – won her division easily,” said Hoffman.

At the event Fortune took second in the 1,000-metre, third in the 1,500-metre and two fourth-place finishes. Shea Hoffman produced three second-place finishes and a third in the 1,500-metre. Klassen tied for fourth in the 3,000-metre and produced two other fifth places.

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