Spotlight on speed skating

Canada’s long track speed skaters hope to shine in prime time. Competition at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games begins Saturday at the Richmond Olympic Oval.  - Don Fennell photo
Canada’s long track speed skaters hope to shine in prime time. Competition at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games begins Saturday at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
— image credit: Don Fennell photo

Lacrosse aficionados like to refer to their sport as the fastest game on two feet.

Maybe it is.

But the fastest on a pair of steel blades is definitely speed skating.

A Dutch treat to be sure, speed skating is deeply rooted in the Netherlands where early settlers attached bones to their footwear to ease their travel over frozen canals. While the sport of speed skating has spread around the world, the Dutch still have a special affinity for it—kind of like Canada does for ice hockey. And they’re not afraid to display their passion. They’re the ones wearing the bright orange clothing. (As if you didn’t know).

Look around the Richmond Olympic Oval during the 2010 Winter Games and you’ll see a sea of orange. That’s the Dutch way of showing support for their speed skaters who, as usual, are among the favourites to medal in several of the Olympic long track events.

But in recent years, Canada’s speed skaters have consistently been in the long track medal derby too. The pressure will be great over the next two weeks for the team wearing red to finish strong—especially since they’re competing on their home ice.

Do your part by wearing red and cheering as loud as you can for our Canadian athletes. They not only appreciate the support, but draw inspiration from it.

Regardless, though, of how our speed skaters—and indeed the entire Canadian Olympic team fare at these Olympic Winter Games, each athlete has every reason to be proud. And we of them.

Clara Hughes, who will lead Canada’s Olympians into B.C. Place Stadium Friday night proudly waving the maple leaf, is one of the greatest speed skaters of all time. She’s won numerous medals on the world stage including gold in 5,000 metres at the Turin Olympics. She will be out to defend that title in her final Olympic Games Feb. 24. Ten days before, on Feb. 14, she hopefully will be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a medal in the 3,000 metres.

Hughes is also one of only four people ever to compete and win medals in both the summer and winter Olympics. She was a double bronze medallist in cycling at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

But it’s not just Hughes’ athletic success that is impressive. Equally extraordinary and inspiring are her ongoing humanitarian efforts with Right to Play, an athlete-based international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play to aid the development of children and youth in underprivileged areas of the world.

Cindy Klassen, scheduled to compete in the ladies’ 1,500 metres, 3,000 metres and 5,000 metres, is an equally talented athlete who switched to speed skating from ice hockey (she was a member of the Canadian junior women’s team) at age 18. And she is typically Canadian—humble despite winning the largest number of medals—five, including gold in the 1,500 metres—at the Turin Olympics.

And the list goes on.

The youngest—20—and newest member of the long track team is Anastasia Bucsis, a Calgary university student who bolted onto the big stage in 2009 with a major breakthrough in the World Cup trials at the Richmond Olympic Oval in October. She followed her third-place finish in the ladies’ 500 metres at that event by finishing second to Christine Nesbitt in the 500 at the Canadian Olympic qualifier in December in Calgary. That earned her a ticket to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

The ladies' competition begins Sunday, Feb. 14 (a day after the men's 5,000 metres Saturday) at the Richmond Olympic Oval. And what would be sweeter than watching a Canadian or two winning medals. Both Hughes and Klassen are scheduled to skate in the ladies’ 3,000 metres along with another extraordinary talent in Kristina Groves.


The athletes:

Anastasia Bucsis

•Hometown: Calgary

•Born: 30 April 1989

•Began speed skating at the age of four. Aspires to work in media after her athletic career. Won six medals in 10 races on the 2008-09 Canada Cup circuit.

•Olympic event: 500 metres (best time—38.64)

•Competing: Feb. 16

Mathieu Giroux

•Hometown: Montreal

•Born: 3 February 1986

•Began skating at the age of five. Finished in the top 20 in all his World Cup races in 2009 and won two medals with the team pursuit.

•Olympic events: 1,500 metres (best time—1:44.64); team pursuit

•Competing: Feb. 20 and Feb. 26-27

Jamie Gregg

•Hometown: Edmonton

•Born: 18 March 1985

•Began skating at five. Dad Randy (1980 and 1988 ice hockey) and mom Kathy (1976 and 1980 speed skating) competed in Olympics, while sister Jessica is on Canada’s short track team. Eight top-10s on 2008-09 World Cup circuit.

•Olympic event: 500 metres (best time–34.36)

•Competing: Feb. 15

Clara Hughes

•Hometown: Glen Sutton, Que.

•Born: 27 September 1972

•Began skating at the age of 16, switched to cycling at 17 and returned to skating at age 28. Fourth person to medal in both summer (cycling) and winter (speed skating) Olympic Games.

•Olympic event: 3,000 metres (best time—3:59.06) and 5,000 metres (6:53.04)

•Competing: Feb. 14 and 24

Kristina Groves

•Hometown: Ottawa

•Born: 4 December 1976

•Began skating at 11. Silver in 1,500 metres at Turin Olympics.Three medals at the 2009 World Single Distance Championships.

•Olympic event: 1,000 metres (best time—1:14.51); 1,500 metres (1:53.18); 3,000 metres (3:58.11); and 5,000 metres (6:54.55)

•Competing: Feb. 14, 18, 21, Feb. 24, Feb. 26 and 27

Mike Ireland

•Hometown: Winnipeg

•Born: 3 January 1974

•Began skating at the age of five. Set the world record at 1,000 metres in 2001. Finished in the top 10 in both 500 metre races and at the 2008 World Single Distance Championships.

•Olympic event: 500 metres (best time—34.48)

•Competing: Feb. 14, 18, 21, Feb. 24, Feb. 26 and 27



•Hometown: Winnipeg

•Born: 12 August 1979

•Began skating at 18. Five Olympic medals at the Turin Games were the most ever won by a Canadian at one Olympics. Member of Canada’s junior women’s ice hockey team prior to focusing on speed skating.

•Olympic event: 1,500 metres (best time—1:51.79, world record); 3,000 metres (3:53.34, world record) and 5,000 metres (6:48.97, Canadian record)

•Competing: Feb. 14, Feb. 21 and Feb. 24



•Hometown: Regina

•Born: 30 May 1987

•Began skating at the age of six. Top-15 in all events at the first World Single Distance Championships in 2009 and won the overall World Cup title in team pursuit in 2008-09. First in Canada in 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres for 2008-09.

•Olympic event: 1,500 metres (best time—1:45.63); 5,000 metres (6:25.71) and team pursuit

•Competing: Feb. 13, Feb. 20 and Feb. 26 and 27




Chetwynd, B.C.

•Born: 8 Sept. 1985

•Began skating at the age of three. Silver medallist at 1,000 metres and third at 1,500 metres at the 2009 World Single Distance Championships. Was fifth overall at the World Allround Championships, winning the 500 metres. World record in the 1,500 metres in 2008, silver in team pursuit at the Turin Olympics.

•Olympic event: 1,000 metres (best time—1:07.11); 1,500 metres (1:42.02, Canadian record); 5,000 metres (6:24.13) and team pursuit

•Competing: Feb. 13, Feb. 17, Feb. 21 and Feb. 26 and 27

Christine Nesbitt

•Hometown: London, Ont.

(born in Melbourne, Australia)

•Born: 17 May 1985

•Began skating (short track) at 12 and long at 18. Leads the 1,000 metre World Cup rankings and is second in the 1,500 metres. World champion in the 1,000 metres and team pursuit and bronze medallist in the 1,500 metres at the 2009 World Single Distance Championships. Silver in team pursuit at Turin Games.

•Olympic events: 500 metres (best time—38.41), 1,000 metres (1:13.92), 1,500 metres (1:52.73) and team pursuit

•Competing: Feb. 16, 18 and 21

Tamara Oudenaarden

•Hometown: St. Albert, Alta.

•Born: 11 August 1987

•Began skating at the age of seven. Ranked first in Canada at 500 metres for 2008-09. Was 18th in the 500 metres at her first World Single Distance Championships in 2009.

•Olympic event: 500 metres (best time—38.78)

•Competing: Feb. 16

Kyle Parrott

•Hometown: St. Alberta, Alta.

•Born: 13 September 1985

•Began skating at the age of 11. Ranked second in Canada in 1,000 metres and fifth at 500 metres for the 2008-09 season. Finished ninth in the 1,000 metres at 2009 World Single Distance Championships.

•Olympic events: 500 metres (best time—34.54); 1,000 metres (1:08.07) and 1,500 metres (1:45.69)

•Competing: Feb. 15, Feb. 17 and Feb. 20

Shannon Rempel

•Hometown: Winnipeg

•Born: 26 November 1984

•Began skating at the age of 10. Ranked third overall in the 1,000 metres and fifth in the 1,500 metres on the 2008-09 World Cup circuit. Silver medal in team pursuit at the Turin Olympics.

•Olympic events: 500 metres (best time—37.80) and 1,00 metres (1:15.00)

•Competing: Feb. 16 and Feb. 18

Francois-O. Roberge

•Hometown: St. Nicholas, Que.

•Born: 15 September 1985

•Began skating at the age of eight. Was seventh in the 1,500 metres at the 2007 World Single Distance Championships. Finished 16th at 1,000 metres at the Turin Games.

•Olympic event: 1,000 metres (best time—1:08.66)

•Competing: Feb. 17

Brittany Schussler

•Hometown: Winnipeg

•Born: 21 April 1985

•Began skating at the age of seven. Won a silver medal in team pursuit and was sixth in the 1,500 metres at the 2008 World Single Distance Championships.

•Olympic events: 1,000 metres (best time—1:15.92) and 1,500 metres (1:54.85) and team pursuit

•Competing: Feb. 17, Feb. 21 and Feb. 26 and 27



•Hometown: Red Deer, Alta.

•Born: 26 October 1976

•Began skating at the age of eight. Ardent fly fisherman and snowboarder. World champion in the 500 metres in 2008, fourth in 1,000 metres. Topped the World Cup standings in 2007-08 at 50 metres, winning nine of 10 races. Olympic silver medallist at 500 metres in 1998.

•Olympic events: 500 metres (best time—34.03, world record) and 1,000 metres (1:07.03, Canadian record)

•Competing: Feb. 15 and Feb. 17

The coaches:

Michael Crowe

•A native of St. Louis, Crowe coached at the 1984, 1988 and 2002 Olympic Winter Games and is a two-time winner of the U.S. coach of the year award. Crowe himself is a former speed skater who competed in the 1974 world sprint championships.

Gregor Jelonek

•A native of Montreal, Jelonek competed for Canada as a long track speed skater from 1987 to 1992. He also competed at the 1988 Calgary Olympics in the 1500 metres.

Marcel Lacroix

•A native of Montreal, Lacroix was a national short track coach from 1993 to 1998 before switching to work with Canada’s long track speed skaters. He is the only coach to have guided ahtletes to Olympic medals in both short and long track speed skating.

Ingrid Paul

•A native of Gouda, Netherlands, Paul began speed skating at the age of 12 and competed for her homeland at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. She is a certified medical doctor and specializes in sports medicine.

Robert Tremblay

•A native of Sherbrooke, Que., Tremblay is a former Canadian national team member who skated for Canada at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. He was Speed Skating Canada’s 2007 male coach of the year.

Xiulu Wang

•A native of Harbin, China, Wang competed for 17 years in speed skating and was a member of the Chinese national team for nine years from 1983 to 1992. She is a former world champion in the ladies’ 1,500 metres.


Speed skaters reach speeds of more than 55 kilometres per hour in sprint races. Throughout each stroke, the skater must apply maximum force to the ice for the longest possible time, while reducing resistance to the minimum. Blades up to 45 centimetres long are used, enabling the skater to keep the blade in contact with the ice longer than would be possible with other types of skates.

There are two disciplines within the sport of speed skating: long track and short track.

Long track

Racing in pairs, counterclockwise, on two lanes of a 400m oval track, the skaters change lanes every lap in order to equalize the distance covered. The skater in the outside lane has the right-of-way at the crossover if the skaters arrive at the same time.

The Olympic and World Championships distances include the 500m, 1000m, 1,500m, 3,000m and 5,000m for women and the 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m for men. The Team Pursuit event made its debut at the Turin Olympics with two teams on the ice chasing each other down over the course of six or eight laps for women and men respectively.

Pairs are selected by a draw held by the referee the night before the first race. As a rule, skaters are grouped by performance.

The skater starting in the inner lane wears a white armband and the skater in the outer lane wears a red armband.

The skaters race against the clock and their times from each race are converted into a point system known as the Sammelagt Point System, which simply means total points.


Force is maximized in speed skating by adopting the crouched position which reduces air resistance and which is characteristic of the sport. The lower the crouch, the more the leg can extend to the side during the push, lengthening the time spent applying force to the ice.


Speed skaters minimize air resistance by wearing tight fitting skin suits with aerodynamic hoods made of various lycra and coated fabrics.

Most skaters use eyewear to enhance vision and prevent tearing caused by the wind.


As they compete at the Richmond Olympic Oval over the next two weeks, Canada’s long track speed skaters will be hoping to continue a long-standing history of excellence at the Olympic Winter Games.

Following are Canada’s medallists at previous Games.

1932 Lake Placid

Alex Hurd—2nd 1,500m, 3rd 500m

William Logan—3rd 1,500m, 5000m

Frank Stack—3rd 10,000m

1952 Oslo

Gordon Audley—3rd 500m

1976 Innsbruck

Cathy Priestner—2nd 500m

1980 Lake Placid

Gaétan Boucher—2nd 1,000m

1984 Sarajevo

Gaétan Boucher—

1st 1,000m,

1st 1500m and 3rd 500m

1994 Lillehammer

Susan Auch—2nd 500m

1998 Nagano

Catriona Le May Doan—1st 500m,

3rd 1,000m

Susan Auch—2nd 500m

Jeremy Wotherspoon— 2nd 500m

Kevin Overland—3rd 500m

2002 Salt Lake City

Catriona Le May Doan—1st 500m

Cindy Klassen—3rd 3,000m

Clara Hughes—3rd 5,000m

2006 Torino

Cindy Klassen—1st 1,500m,

2nd 1,000m,

3rd 3,000m,

3rd 5,000m

Clara Hughes 1,5000m

Kristina Groves—2nd 1,500m

Men—2nd Team Pursuit

Women—2nd Team Pursuit

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