Temperatures affect athletes, cause delays

Denalda Fast had just watched her daughter Jacoba compete on the long-track oval when the one of team Saskatchewan’s coaches asked to speak…

Denalda Fast had just watched her daughter Jacoba compete on the long-track oval when the one of team Saskatchewan’s coaches asked to speak with her.

“At first I was excited, I thought maybe she finished in the top five,” said the Saskatoon native.

Then the coach told her not to worry.

After coming off the track, her 15-year-old daughter had collapsed with severe abdominal pains and was treated for hypothermia, Denalda said on Monday afternoon.

“It was a little scary, basically I didn’t panic because she was OK.”

On Sunday afternoon, temperatures in Whitehorse hovered around minus 35 degrees Celsius with wind chill.

“They put her into the ambulance and warmed her up,” said Denalda. “They were really good to her.”

Denalda, her younger daughter and her parents packed into the car and made the 25-hour drive north to Whitehorse from Saskatoon.

They made the trip to encourage the young skater.

“We’re a tough lot,” said Denalda.

Jacoba was competing again on Monday afternoon, this time in the ladies’ 1,000 metres.

“It’s a competition and you just have to go,” said Denalda.

“I just feel bad for the volunteers and organizers.

“I’m having a fabulous time; I just wish that it was a little warmer,” she added.

Before Monday’s races began at 1 p.m., athletes, covered head to toe in tracksuits, were jogging around the FH Collin’s parking lot trying to warm up before their races.

Nearby, a strong wind from the north whipped the teams’ flags around their poles.

The white track, lined with snowbanks, blended into the grey sky.

There isn’t a fixed cutoff temperature for the races, said long-track’s information officer Peggy Poole.

When making the call on whether to proceed or postpone, officials consider variables like wind and sun, and they consider how athletes are faring on the ice.

They also note whether the race is a short 100-metre sprint, or a longer 3,000-metre slog, which means the racers will be out in the weather for a longer haul.

“The main concern is frostbite, but most athletes understand that they have to keep their skin covered,” said Poole, who came up from Winnipeg for the event.

Under their suits, the athletes don extra pairs of long johns to stave off chills and smear Vaseline on their exposed skin for protection.

While the blades of conventional skates are permanently attached to the boot, the blades of clap skates, used in long track, detach at the heel.

The specialty skates also mould to the athletes feet leaving little room for socks.

BC long-track skater Gavin Coyne went sockless on the first day of competition, but grabbed a pair after getting a touch of frostbite on his toes.

“I try not to let the cold affect me,” said the 17-year-old skater, after coming off the oval on Monday.

Coyne’s mother Trish Archibald came up from Kamloops for the event.

Having lived in the Yukon for 12 years, Archibald was accustomed to the cold.

“He seemed to be in good spirits,” she said.

“It was horrible, but, oh well, he had fun.”

While the athletes were donning multiple layers of long johns to beat the wintry weather, New Brunswicker Marilyn Merrit-Gray hit the local shops to stock up on extra scarves and boots.

Merrit-Gray spent two days flying across the country to cheer on her daughter, Carri Gray, in the 1,000-metre race.

She braved the weather and watched some of the weekend’s races, where ice fog drifted around the track, blocking views of the Yukon’s sky and mountains.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Merrit-Gray said of the northern phenomenon.

“The wind is the worst part — you could almost see them hit the wind as they rounded the far end of the track.

“And then you think your child is going to be out in that.

“It’s an experience for them. After this, going on Survivor would be nothing for them,” joked the Fredericton resident.

The sport began its week with three extra training days. Some of the postponed races were pushed to Tuesday. Thursday and Friday are still open to catch any further delays.

Long-track skaters

glide through

harsh conditions

It was minus 33 Celsius with wind-chill, but Keith Sulzer managed to work up a sweat on Riverdale’s long-track oval.

The effort netted the 19-year-old Albertan speed skater a gold medal in the men’s 1,500-metre and a silver in the 3,000-metre races on Monday afternoon.

“It went well; I felt good out there,” said Sulzer after coming off the ice and ditching his skin suit in favour of cutoff long johns and a T-shirt.

After the results came into the parents’ warming area at FH Collins School, Keith’s mother, Nancy, placed a call to her husband back home to share the good news.

For the Sulzers, who live three kilometres from Calgary’s Olympic oval, skating is a family affair.

His father, who started skating when Keith picked up the sport nine years ago, just competed in the World Masters long-track meet.

“We started out doing it together,” said Keith. “I’m a little too quick for him now,” he added with a smile.

On top of Monday’s gold-medal win, Keith has also placed third in the 2007 Canadian Junior Championships.

Races at the Games’ long-track oval have faced postponements all week due to plummeting temperatures.

Runs that were originally scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday were pushed to 1 p.m. to take advantage of the warmer midday temperatures.

The delays have been disappointing for the kids, said Nancy.

“They’re really pumped for this; they’ve been waiting a couple of days and they just want to skate.”

But her son takes the setbacks in stride.

“When you’re going to an event like this you have to be ready to roll with the punches,” said Keith, who hopes to earn a spot on the national team and compete in the Olympics one day.

The freezing temperatures have also slowed the pace of the races.

The colder the weather the more “frosting” there is on the ice, explained Keith. And the more frosting there is, the stickier the surface becomes.

It means skaters must work harder making it tougher on their cardiovascular systems.

“It’s nice when the weather’s a little warmer, then you can glide more,” he said.