Speed skaters reach each podium tier

In just two days of racing, Team Yukon's skaters have occupied each step of the podium at the Arctic Winter Games and will be taking home a full set of medals.

Grande Prairie, Alberta

In just two days of racing, Team Yukon’s skaters have occupied each step of the podium at the Arctic Winter Games and will be taking home a full set of medals.

And there’s still two days of racing to go in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Yukon’s Heather Clarke, 15, is the first Yukon speed skater this week to take three steps up to receive her medals, winning gold in the junior females 1,000-metre on Monday.

“I really like the 1,000 because it’s in the middle between the sprints and the long-distances,” said Clarke. “I like it because I can sprint for the whole time instead of just sprinting for the short 500 or skate it easier for the 1,500. So, yeah, I like the 1,000 the most.”

Making the win all the more sweet, Clarke finished fourth in all her events at the 2008 Arctic Games in Yellowknife, leaving without a medal.

“I can’t even describe it – I was so happy about it yesterday,” said Clarke on Tuesday. “I couldn’t have skated any better; the strategy and the speed combined, it was just perfect.”

Like so many winter sports, equipment maintenance can make the difference between reaching a goal and coming up short. In her 500-metre race on Tuesday, Clarke came fourth in the event, losing time because of an unaligned skate blade.

“We discovered that her skate had come out of alignment for some reason – we didn’t quite understand why,” said Yukon speed skating head coach Phil Hoffman. “The bolts were tight but her blades were not where they were supposed to be. We don’t know what happened there.”

“It affected me really badly, actually,” said Clarke. “As soon as I got onto the ice I could feel something was wrong with my skate. I had a good start but I just couldn’t hold it on the corners and I had a fall because my skates were all weird.

“I was disappointed because it was something we could have fixed beforehand.”

Yukon’s Donald Fortune also secured an irreplaceable memento of the Games, winning silver in the junior males 500-metre on Tuesday. Fortune also came fourth in the 777-metre on Monday.

Teammate Hanna Wirth also produced in a final, taking bronze on Tuesday in the juvenile females 500-metre, a race she likes for its simplistic strategy.

“I was really, really happy, like almost the happiest I’ve ever been,” said Wirth, 12, who also finished fourth in the juvenile females 777-metre on Monday. “It’s an easier race for me because I don’t have to pace myself or anything. I got lots of personal best (times) both days.”

Aside from those who won medals, a handful of Yukon skaters were in contention for hardware by reaching A Finals both days of competition.

Racing in the junior males division, Shea Hoffman had two A Final appearances, placing fifth in the 1,000-metre and fourth in the 500-metre.

“Shea and Donald making the finals both today and yesterday is pretty good considering the competition in that group,” said Hoffman.

Juvenile male Daryn Lovell came fifth in the 777-metre on Monday. Unfortunately, Lovell took a hard fall in Tuesday’s semifinal, crashing into the boards and hurting his back. He was brought off the ice on a spinal board and taken to a hospital as a precaution.

“He’s fine, he’s a little sore, but no major injury,” said Hoffman. “We have tomorrow off so hopefully after a little rest and recovery he can get back into it Thursday morning.”

On Thursday, Yukon speed skaters will again take to the ice for the 666-metre in the juvenile division and the 777-metre in the junior.

Contact Tom Patrick at