As a runner, of course I love the Summer Olympics, but right now, I’m pretty fired up for the Winter Olympics. The sports are sometimes far off the radar and fun to watch. And I have a little background in short-track speed skating, (what?!) so I can’t wait to catch those events. I’m even familiar with some of the names out there at the trials and from past Olympics thanks to my stint on blades and wheels.
A little background: before getting into triathlon, I spent a few years competing on inline speed skating teams. The sport was tiny to begin with, but I think it’s almost non-existent today. But for a while, there was a pretty lively scene in some parts of the country. We’d do races anywhere from 5ks up to 100ks (once a 10-lap race in Central Park–pretty cool). It is a sport that plays out much like cycling–you have teams that work together in tight packs and draft off each other. There’s also an indoor component to it, just like short-track ice but on wheels.
Before I left the sport and changed over to triathlon, I got onto ice as well. I was pretty comfortable there because it played into my childhood sport of figure skating. But the speeds are something else, and falling is pretty terrifying, I will tell you. I saw some pretty ugly injuries (cuts) along the way. We wore helmets and kevlar gloves for protection, but that was about it. A fall at a good speed could send you careening toward the boards or into a blade. Sidenote on that–one of the girls I used to race against, Theresa Cliff, was expected to make the long-track team at trials last week, but a competitor fell and slid into her while she was on the side of the ice, and she missed her key event.
I thought I’d provide a little primer on short-track speed skating for you all before you tune in to Sochi: Race distances are going to vary from 500 up to 3,000 meters, but the “track” is a 100-meter oval. It’s a pack start and depending on distance, the skaters will either take off fast or fairly easy to save their legs for the final laps. There’s a lot of strategizing that goes into an event: figuring out when to make a move or cover a move and how fast or slow (relative term at the Olympic level) to pace it. Inside passes are the most effective–going on the outside is pretty dicey and you’d better have the power to pull it off. Some subtle blocking goes on, too, but penalties are assessed in the form of a DQ if it is blatant.
Getting into that low position? Holy lactic acid, especially if you are going to hold it for the longer events. I used to have a slideboard in my garage to practice it on dry land. The folks who excel at this sport are seriously strong, fearless, and badass, if you ask me!
So that’s my little off-the-beaten-path background, and the roundabout way I ended up a triathlete and runner. What did you do before becoming a runner?