LAKE PLACID - The Olympic Oval closed Sunday, March 16 after an exciting season of speedskating races and training sessions.
The Lake Placid Speed Skating Club hosted four meets this year: one marathon, one sprint distance, one all-around event and one single-distance championship. There was another marathon scheduled for the end of the season that was canceled due to a lack of officials as a result of bad weather.
The Lake Placid Ice Marathon offered races of 10 kilometers, 21k and 42k over three days. Several participants competed in all three.
Marty Haire leads the pack of Patrick Kelly, Mark Yanagihara and Glenn Corso during the 10-kilometer race of the Lake Placid Ice Marathon.
Photo by Christie Sausa
Sprint distances refer to shorter distances like the 500- and 1,000-meter races, while the all-around races include a range of distances. The single-distance events allow skaters the opportunity to earn medals in individual distances instead of just based on combined event results.
The meets were very well attended, including a record 70 competitors at the Charles Jewtraw All Around. Canadian speedskaters used this race as an alternative timing location for their Provincial Championships since their rink in Ottawa was frequently closed due to variable weather conditions. Approximately 50 skaters from the Ontario region came to Lake Placid to race in order to earn times to qualify for their next event.
In addition to racing, the Olympic Oval has become a popular training site for athletes throughout the country, especially from the East Coast. The oval is the only outdoor 400-meter speedskating track on the East Coast and just one of five in the United States. The others are in Salt Lake City, Utah, Milwaukee, Wisc., Butte, Mont., Roseville, Minn. and Anchorage, Alaska. Lake Placid's is the only outdoor oval in the U.S. that has hosted an Olympic Games.
The Saratoga Winter Club is one group that has consistently chosen Lake Placid for a place to train for speedskating. Every weekend several members travel here to take advantage of the oval's weekend twice-daily speedskating sessions.
"The feeling at the venue, the sense of history, is what makes Lake Placid a unique place to skate and train," said Marty Haire, an elite Masters skater who competes internationally and holds several world records in his age category. "Eric Heiden's incredible accomplishment in 1980 of winning five gold medals is something that we'll probably never see again in long track, and it's very inspiring to Masters skaters."
The Saratoga Winter Club is also known for producing elite speedskaters. Although they are based in Saratoga Springs, most of them also train in Lake Placid on the long track, which improves their skills in both skating disciplines.
Many of the skaters who trained in Lake Placid on weekends have gone on to success in both short track and long track speedskating. One of those who achieved success on the world stage is Trevor Marsicano.
A 2009 world single distance champion in the 1,500 and 2010 Olympic silver medalist in the team pursuit, Marsicano spent many weekends training in Lake Placid before moving to Milwaukee and Salt Lake City to partake in more dedicated training on indoor ice with more availability.
Marsicano considers Lake Placid a factor in his success and enjoyed skating here as a developing athlete.
"On a nice sunny day - 20-30 degrees and little to no wind - there is no better time to speed skate on the Lake Placid Oval. If you skate in a blizzard at minus temperatures, it makes any other conditions seem great," Marsicano said. "The outdoor elements, the inclusive nature of the skaters and clubs and the mountains are what made Lake Placid a positive contribution (for me) to becoming an Olympian."
The oval's popularity increases in an Olympic year, with both speedskaters and public skaters looking to enjoy skating at the historic rink. Tom Miller, the Olympic Oval box office manager and a speedskating coach himself acknowledges that with speedskaters, the Olympics are just one of the factors.
"I believe the increase on the competitive side is due to the consistency of ice this year," Miller said. "In order for us to be more successful, we would have to work with ORDA in getting the oval open earlier, preferably within the first or second week of November. If we can't get the oval open earlier, then we will lose these athletes because they will have no other choice but to travel out west to train."
It was a busy year for visitors to Lake Placid who tried speedskating on the Olympic Oval.
"As for tourists on the oval, I definitely believe it's tied into the Olympic year and the longer skating season which allowed the Quebec and Ontario provinces the ability to try it during their spring breaks," Miller said.
The Lake Placid Skate Shop, located across from the oval, offers the Lake Placid Speed Skating Experience, where visitors can rent a pair of speed skates and zip around the oval. A tutorial is also included to assist renters in standing on the skates and skating efficiently on the oval.
Linda Sausa, who is the president of the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club and also owner of Lake Placid Skate Shop, has definitely seen an increase in skaters during and after the Olympics.
"The last weekend of the oval, a little over a week ago, we had 20 pairs of speed skates on the ice every session," Sausa said. "Usually it gets very quiet towards the end of the season, but the longer ice schedule this year allowed visitors for whom the oval is usually closed for by the time they get here to try speed skating."
After US Speed Skating expressed interest in hosting national and international meets in Lake Placid, the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club and ORDA plan to discuss the possibility of hosting such a high-caliber event as soon as next year.
"Lake Placid should definitely be hosting these kinds of speedskating events," Sausa said. "Hopefully with ORDA's partnership we can bring elite speedskating competitions back to Lake Placid."