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Yukon short trackers hit goals instead of podium

Yukon skaters were out of the 3,000-metre speed skating finals on Thursday, but very much in contention during their final races.

Yukon skaters were out of the 3,000-metre speed skating finals on Thursday, but very much in contention during their final races.

Seventeen-year-old Troy Henry led the men’s squad, winning his final race.

He lay back during the opening laps, and then kicked into high gear with four laps to go.

“Today was a good race mainly because I’ve got good endurance,” said Henry.

Henry broke out of second-last-place with 16 laps left in the heat, passing on the outside down the front straight to take the lead.

He looked cool and calm and set the pace at the front, followed by a pack of attackers.

A group started catching him as the pace picked up in the race, but with four laps to go Henry turned on the turbocharger and won.

“I just went for it,” he said.

Henry has competed at three Arctic Winter Games and won seven gold medals.

He sought to make into the top 15 at the Games, but ended the races ranked 25th out of 56 racers.

Eighteen-year-old Jesse Reams placed fourth in his final 3,000-metre heat and 36th overall.

“It’s been pretty good overall,” he said of his week. “It’s a good experience and it’s been fun.”

Reams placed fourth in his 1,000-metre heat on Wednesday.

His teammate, 16-year-old Alex deBruyn stands a towering 6-3.

While he set his goals low — “my goal was to make it above the bottom,” said deBruyn — he exceeded them by placing 53rd.

He also won his 1,000-metre final heat on Wednesday.

“That was an awesome race,” said deBruyn after finishing fifth in his final 3,000-metre heat.

“I’m really proud of what I did. My goal was just to make it to the Games.”

And deBruyn picked up personal best times in every event to boot.

Nineteen-year-old Tara MacKinnon of Haines Junction places sixth in her final 3,000-metre heat.

So did 14-year-old Melanie Tait.

MacKinnon ended the races ranked 38th out of 55 competitors. Tait ended in 46th position.

The technology of short track

Short track speed skating is like Formula One car racing on ice.

An F1 car costs more than a typical Manhattan skyscraper and uses wings to create aerodynamic downforce that pushes the car to the ground. This allows drivers to reach a mind-boggling 5.5 g’s in fast corners.

Cornering forces in short track speed skating aren’t far behind.

Amateur skaters, like those racing at the Canada Winter Games Centre on Thursday, reach more than 3 g’s in the corners on the 111-metre short track, averaging speeds of 50 km/h over a lap and leaning at angles approaching 50 degrees through the corners.

Heavier pros can hit more than 5 g’s through the corners.

Like F1, aerodynamics plays a key role in who wins and who loses, and improving technology is key to increasing performance.

Skaters “draft” each other down the short straights. Despite their aerodynamic suits and helmets, racers in front face full aerodynamic drag while clearing the air for those behind.

The result is that a skater in the draft can travel at the same speed while using far less energy, explained Nancy Goplen, chair of the national competition committee with Speed Skating Canada.

“It could be as much as 30 per cent,” she said of the effect drafting has on energy required to skate. “But they have to stay within two feet of each other.”

Any further apart and they lose the draft.

The draft comes in handy when it’s time to pass and take the lead, as it leaves an extra reserve of energy needed to blast ahead.

The skates are high tech, with blades that are slightly curved to the left to help skaters navigate the left-hand corners.

They are also offset to allow skaters to lean deeper into the turn without hitting the side of the skate boot on the ice.

The top skaters endlessly tweak and calibrate their skates to find extra speed, explained Goplen.

And just like any form of car racing, when a short track speed skater loses grip in the corner and slides out, the result is a big “thwack” when they hit the padded boards.