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Lake Placid skaters fall short at Olympic Trials

January 17, 2018
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Every four years, the fastest speed skaters in the United States compete at the US Olympic Team Trials to determine who will earn a coveted spot on the team for long- and short-track speed skating.

At this year's long track trials Jan. 2-7 at the Pettit Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lake Placid was represented by skaters who used it as a training site in the past or recently trained on the historic Lake Placid Olympic speed skating oval in preparation for the Olympic season.

There are five long track ovals in the United States, including a recently re-opened outdoor oval in Butte, Montana; an outdoor oval in Roseville, Minnesota; two indoor ovals - one in Milwaukee and one in Salt Lake City; and of course, the Lake Placid oval, known not only for its historical significance as the site of Eric Heiden's five gold medal-winning triumphs and the Olympic opening ceremonies, but also for its stunningly beautiful surroundings and active speed skating culture.

Some skaters have moved from elsewhere to train on the Lake Placid oval. Two of these skaters are Fletcher Codd and Esther Munoz, both Lake Placid High School graduates, who competed at the trials after relocating to train in Salt Lake City. Both were coached by Tom Miller of the Adirondack Speed Skating Club.

Codd returned for a session at the oval shortly before trials after moving at the end of last season, while Munoz has been in Salt Lake since 2016. Both continue to train in Salt Lake City, but used Lake Placid as a springboard to train at a higher level.

Throughout the past decades, many skaters from the Saratoga Winter Club in Saratoga Springs have made Lake Placid their "weekend home," using the Oval as a training base and competing in various meets. Petra Acker, Jennifer Kirsch, Trevor Marsicano and Rebecca Simmons are included in this group.

For Simmons, Lake Placid was a familiar place. At 6 years old, she began her career as a hockey player, then was captivated by speed skating at age 9, and participated in both hockey and speed skating until she left for National Sports Academy in Lake Placid. While there, she couldn't participate in two sports, so she chose hockey. But she couldn't let go of speed skating, and resumed the sport while in graduate school.

Simmons started coming to Lake Placid more frequently during the 2013-14 skating season to improve her long track skating skills. She became quite a fixture in Lake Placid, placing in and winning regional meets. She skated alongside fellow goalie and hockey legend Mike Richter (another speed skater) and had her Jack Shea Sprint Championships medals presented to her by Jack Shea's son and Olympian Jim Shea Sr.

Last season, Simmons won or medaled in all Lake Placid meets, and became the Senior Ladies champion in the 2017 Long Track Age Group National Championships. As is common for elite speed skaters, she moved to Milwaukee at the end of the summer to train at the Pettit Center. Elite speed skaters must eventually move to either Milwaukee or Salt Lake City to take advantage of the indoor ice facilities, and while Simmons enjoyed training at the Pettit Center, she also looks forward to returning to Lake Placid.

"Moving to Milwaukee to train was a great choice, (since) the other skaters there are just as committed to their goals as you are to yours, it's great to have so many other athletes to work alongside of," Simmons said. "I will say I'm eager to get back on outdoor ice and remember the joy of skating, as you can get lost a little when you don't have the fresh air in your lungs or the gorgeous mountains as your backdrop!"

This was certainly the year to compete in Olympic Trials. The crowds were packed to capacity and the buzz of hard-won competition surrounding the contenders made it perhaps one of the most electrifying trials to date as the skaters battled for a shot on the Olympic team.

"I have never felt such a rush from the cheering of the crowd as you skated by on the front stretch," Simmons said. Skating for a packed house and being on TV brought back some high-performance nerves like the ones I would get before my big games in college hockey.

"Although it was Olympic Trials, I was still learning new things in every race, and that is how things go when you have only been on the ice consistently for five months. As an athlete, the desire for more is never quenched when it came to results but I broke all of my PNIC personal bests and I'm very happy with that."

Now that she's back on the East Coast, Simmons plans to continue training in both Saratoga Springs and Lake Placid to compete and coach for the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club. She is looking with anticipation to the next Olympic Trials in 2022, and feels she still has much more to accomplish.

"I think I'm sticking around for another four (years) and want to see what I can do," Simmons said. "I've been training at this higher level for only a couple years in comparison to girls have done this their whole life, so it won't hurt to try, and my parents are hands-down the best support anyone that's almost thirty and chasing their childhood dreams could have."

For fellow teammate Trevor Marsicano, of Ballston Spa, the Olympic Trials were a homecoming of sorts. Having trained in Milwaukee in preparation for the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games before taking a hiatus from the sport, Marsicano considers Milwaukee a "second home rink" to Lake Placid.

Like Simmons, Marsicano also started as a hockey player. He switched to short track at age 13, and quickly ascended the ranks before a life-threatening injury in 2004. After rehabilitation and as part of his recovery, he started long track skating in 2005. Although a talented short track skater, long track proved to be even more fruitful, as he went on to win four medals, including a gold in the 2009 World Single Distance Championships and a 2010 Olympic silver medal for his part in the team pursuit event. Struggling with recurring injuries, he was unable to make the 2014 Olympic team and took a break before returning to competition in the 2016-17 season in Lake Placid, then moving to Milwaukee to train for the Trials.

Marsicano skated well in the Trials, placing in the top 10 in his races.

"I don't know if this was my last Olympic trials," he said. "I said that in 2014 and here I am, so I'm not going to say no, but I'm not in a position now to say yes either. I think it would be fun to keep training because I love doing it but it will be fulfilling to coach as well.

"I think my performance at Olympic Trials was great. My times were the fastest they have been all season, and I accomplished most of the goals I had for myself. Plus, skating in a sold-out venue is always exciting to be a part of."

Marsicano looks forward to returning to the East Coast at the end of the month, and his goals include finishing his college degree, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, and keeping fit through skating and coaching. He also plans to skate in Lake Placid this season, continuing to skate and coach as he did last season.

"I'm looking forward to coaching and training in Lake Placid again, there is something special about skating outside in the mountains of Lake Placid."

The next Lake Placid meet scheduled is the Jack Shea Sprint Championships Jan. 20 and 21, while the next international speed skating meet is the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea Feb. 9-25. For more information on local speed skating meets, visit www.lakeplacidspeed.com, and check your local listings for Olympic games coverage.

 
 

 

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