Speed skaters prep for season with meet, clinic

With the season evolving and the next meet in February, the Whitehorse Rapids Speed Skating Club had a novel idea: Why not create our own…

With the season evolving and the next meet in February, the Whitehorse Rapids Speed Skating Club had a novel idea: Why not create our own meet?

However, they did not end there.

To increase the usefulness of the event, they also attached a clinic or skills camp to the meet, fusing the two into one at the Canada Games Centre this weekend.

“We’re hoping it will become annual — this is the first one we’ve done,” said Barry Sugden, participant and one of the Rapids’ directors. “It’s an idea that germinated at the Arctic Winter Games last year in Yellowknife … Whitehorse is kind of a central location to Alaska, Nunavut, even the Fort St. John area could come up. So we decided to have a midwinter, early winter get-together.”

The meet and clinic, named the Alaska Highway Meet and Training Camp, saw roughly 35 skaters, including six from the Alaska Speed Skating Club.

“The skaters that came are obviously a little more committed, a little more advanced,” said Peter Haeussler, coach for the Alaska team. “In this format (with the meet combined with clinics) it allows for immediate feedback, things that we can work on. So that was kind of cool.”

Making his fifth trip up from Calgary was speed skating coach Ryan Hickman to conduct the clinics.

“We don’t have quite enough skaters to have a full-blown competition,” said Sugden. “So we thought if we brought up a coach from Calgary, we could do some races and do a clinic at the same time — get some race experience as well as some good technical coaching at the same time.”

Apart from performing drills and reviewing racing strategies, Hickman was using video analysis, which allows him to look at a skater’s technique frame by frame.

The ages of the participants were diverse, ranging from about 10 years old to 60.

The races stretched from 330 metres for the youngest age group to 3,000 metres for the relay races.

Even before all the results from the races were in, Rapids coach Phil Hoffman knew the event had benefited his skaters.

“I haven’t seen the times, but I think we got some personal bests,” said Hoffman. “This is not a serious competitive meet, this was more a chance to get some practice racing in and learn a bit about racing, so if some kids got some personal bests in there that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Brandon Blackley from Eagle River, Alaska, just outside of Anchorage, attended the meet and clinic as a member of the Alaska Speed Skating Club.

“Pretty good, I’ve gotten a few personal bests,” said Blackley, 15, listing the 500- and the 1,000-metre.

“We come up to Whitehorse probably two or three times a year, ‘cause they have Ryan (Hickman) come up from Calgary to coach,” said Blackley. “We don’t get that kind of coaching very often, so it’s shorter than going to (mainland) US … so we just come over to Canada.”

Five members of the Rapids competed at the Fall Classic in Edmonton, November 7 to 9. Although none of the Rapids skaters brought home medals, each logged personal triumphs.

“We did quite well,” said Hoffman, who took first in the 500 and 777-metre heats and first in the 1,500-metre for his division, leading to a first-place finish in his division.

“Heather Clarke and Emily Klassen both got personal bests in all four distances. Melanie Tait got a personal best in two of her distances and Shea Hoffman got personal bests in two of his as well.”

Tait’s best result came with a first in the 500-metre, however medals were rewarded for overall performances. Shea Hoffman had his best result with a first in the 777-metre final. Clarke and Klassen, racing in the same division, finished fourth and sixth, with Clarke taking first in the 500-metre and Klassen second in the 666-metre.

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com