Speedskaters struggle for ice

By C. Gary Greenham

Speed skating’s popularity is growing in Ottawa, but the availability and quality of skating facilities haven’t kept pace.

While Ottawa does have speed skating facilities, people involved in the sport say ice surfaces that are up to standard are often tied up with other sports while the quality of others is questionnable.

Speed Skating Canada official Robert Bolduc cites the Rideau Canal as an example, saying the one time he did speed skate there his blades ended up bent and dulled by the canal ice surface.

“It’s too choppy,” Bolduc says. “When I go on the canal I don’t wear my long blades to skate because it’s outdoor ice that’s really not maintained with a zamboni.”

Dave Morrison, a level four nationally-ranked coach, says Ottawa’s speed ice has good and bad qualities.
“We do well with what we have. In Gloucester we have an Olympic-size rink, 60 by 30 metres, so the Olympic trials have been held here (in December 1993),” he says. “We also have Brewer Park and it’s good, but it’s outside and the elements can play a factor in the ice condition.”

Morrison, who has coached speed skating for 15 years, says the speed skating oval at Brewer Park has stretches that run a little up or downhill. He also says temperatures and weather conditions have shortened the season for speed skaters in the past.

Moving indoors, the two local speed skating clubs, the Ottawa Pacers and Gloucester Concordes, compete with other sports for ice time.

Dennis Duncan, former president of the Ottawa Pacers, says vying for ice time with men’s and women’s hockey, as well as figure skating, has left speed skating on the sidelines.

Despite skating surface shortcomings, enrollment in speed skating is snowballing. Speed Skating Canada has a membership of 15,000 skaters, 250 of whom reside in Ottawa.

Sandra Chenard, president and co-founder of the Gloucester Concordes, says her club has blossomed into the largest speed skating club in Ontario. It now has about 150 members, up from 20 when it was founded 10 years ago. The increase in size has led to more ice time for the Concordes.

“In our city, as your numbers of enrollment go up, so does the amount of ice time you receive,” says Chenard.

Canada is considered a world power in speed skating.