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Numbers growing as speed skating surges forward

Post-pandemic rebuild in the amateur sport sector has been a given. In certain cases, it’s far more necessary than others.

The Sudbury Sprinters Speed Skating Club was already a smaller group, relatively speaking, even before Covid-19 reared its ugly head.

Recent signs on the local front, however, would suggest this might be yet another case of a Sudbury phoenix rising from the ashes. Surely, that is what must be made of the Sprinters sending a delegation of skaters 20 strong to the Ontario Provincial Circuit West #3 Meet in Barrie last weekend – with 13 of the Sudbury reps competing for the very first time.

“I was really nervous – but after I finished my first race, I wasn’t as nervous anymore,” noted nine year old first year skater Nathan Fleury, the grade four student at Valley View Public School placing second in his age category. “I was on the ice with skaters that I knew.”

Sharing his heats with one of his local teammates, albeit a couple of lanes away, clearly helped the newcomer to the sport focus on all that his coaches had taught him through the first four months of the season. “It’s about staying in the basic position as you go around the ice rink; staying down low to the ice, with knees bent,” explained Fleury.

“You can keep your arms on your back or move them up and down while you are skating. I normally move my hands up and down.”

While Fleury’s placement topped all local competitors, the truth is that when it comes to growing their sport, Sudbury Sprinters’ officials are more concerned with simply creating an enjoyable atmosphere for their athletes, results set aside, for a moment.

That clearly appealed to the Masters family.

How else can one explain that just a year after Julia Masters (age 11) and younger brother Paul (9) were introduced to speed skating, that their father (James) would find himself joining them on to ice for the twice a week workouts.

“I watched the kids skate all of last year and I saw that they had an adult program and decided: why am I up here in the stands?” said James. “I do play a bit of hockey, but it was not a seamless transition. You’re definitely worried that you are going to hit those barricades when you whip around the corner.”

“I certainly am getting a very good appreciation about how difficult and technical the sport is.”

That said, there is something to be said for being young and relatively fearless.

One of the many who were racing for the very first time, at least against skaters from other clubs (the Sprinters did host a couple of in-house mini-meets during the on-again, off-again season that was 2021-2022), the youngest member of the clan summarized the emotions of many of the locals who travelled to Barrie.

“When I was racing, I was thinking that I wanted to go super fast – but don’t fall,” said Paul with a smile. More than happy with his very first showing, the grade four student at R.L Beattie even had the chance to put into action his strategy on exactly how to pass fellow competitors in a sport that is known for grouping athletes in very tight quarters.

“If you would be drifting out, not near the pucks (the markings of the inner edge of the course), I would go straight through,” Paul explained. “If you’re sticking right to the pucks but I think I have enough speed, I would try and go around you on the corners.”

Either way, when it comes to these indoor races (short track speed skating – as opposed to the longer outdoor ovals that are much less prominent), the start remains the key. “The coaches said to try and keep your eye on the second puck,” said Paul. “You want to try and be the first one to that puck.”

“Usually that means that you will end up with a better position.”

Older sister Julia was also in attendance at the Barrie meet, the family almost always on the go, with the Masters also among the 75 skier field that took part in the Sofie Manarin Classic earlier in February. Now halfway through her second year with the club, she has one area of focus that remains arguably more of a priority than all others.

“I have definitely improved on my crossovers, but I am not the best,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting all of the technique I had to learn with the crossovers. You see the Olympic athletes and they do crossovers so many times, so fast. That’s not what I am. I can kind of do it, but not really good yet.”

Still, her multi-sport background tends to serve her well, especially in the races that get stretched out a bit. “I love the longer races; I’ve got a lot of endurance,” suggested Julia. “Longer races give me more time because I don’t feel like I am using all of my energy. I am used to this from skiing.”

James also attended the meet in Barrie and apparently butterflies are not reserved for the teenagers and younger skaters. “It was intimidating,” stated the patriarch of the Masters contingent. “They paired me with the faster skaters. Just being on the ice for the warm-up with these skaters, there’s a lot of skill.”

That said, it’s a nervousness James will live with, quite happily, any day of the week.

“Just participating in something that they (Paul and Julia) are doing is exciting, in and of itself.”

While the 20-skater delegation that competed at Barrie was the largest of the Sprinters’ season to date, there have been a handful of other notable results, with some highlights as follows:

Ontario Provincial Course – East #2 – Belleville in November
Olivier Briand – 1st in 14-29 year old group

Mid-Season Provincial Meet in London in December
Henry Walker – tied for third – PB in 600m (1:27)
Audrey Simard – finished fourth with three personal best times
William Walker – finished fifth with three personal best times

Ontario Provincial Circuit – West #3 – Barrie in February
Noah Snider – finished fourth with three personal best times
Jordan Tingle – finished fifth in his group
Ethan Di Cosmo – finished sixth with three personal best times

Rounding out the Sudbury Sprinters 2022-2023 team are: Elizabeth Walker, Abrahm Coulas, Mira Barrette, Jaxon McMahon, Olivier Briand, Alexis Nicholls, Victoria Nicholls, William Nicholls, Aimée Gareau.

Also training with the Sprinters but not yet competing are: Cindy Babcock, Curtis Ciuliani, Eloi Clément, Mathieu Giroux, Normand Glaude, Rachael Hiemstra, Skye MacHattie, Fergus MacHattie, Austin Morin, Theo Papadakis, Ty Potvin, Zavier Simard, Luca Snider, Jordan Tingle and August Zhao.

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