The Races -Masters International

“Watching a Masters 3,000m race is as much fun as watching paint dry.”

-some dork masquerading as a speedskating official

I believe this was actually said at a US speedskating board meeting, so I could find out who said it, but I don’t want to use this blog as a weapon. Besides, I don’t need to argue with such inanity, it speaks for itself well enough.

However, I invite him to change his opinion by officiating the incredible metric/pack competition at the Masters International. We are the most exciting paint imaginable! I promise it will be the most fun he will ever have at meet..

Here are some pictures (paint?) from the finish of the 40-44 category 500m. This is my proof. From L to R we have Olusegun Sijuwade (with perfect corner exit hip/blade position!), Matt Trimble, Randy Plett (with the good “race face”) & Steve Desotell.

The margin between these 4 at the finish line was .2, with Olu winning it by a skate blade. EVERY SINGLE race this group did had a finish like this one, The pic below is the 800! Almost a dead heat between Trimble & Desotell!

And in that “paint drying” 3k? Steve Desotell & Tom Cole finished within .05 of each other at the line after a very fast race! I have made my point, and I will now climb off my soapbox.

But skating is not just about winning; it’s about persevering for the pure love of this bizarre sport that seems to often reward dedication & devotion.

Here is someone who truly loves his skating, Tony Marchese (yes, this is boot artisan Paul Marchese’s dad) Racing in the 65 & 69 category, he still hauls! He used to be a professional boxer. He says that in terms of training, speedskating is MUCH harder, and that most of the time, speedskaters work far harder than the boxers he has trained (actually, the precise linguistic terminology he used describing most boxers was “wuss”).

If there is a “bionic skater” award, Tony wins it across all age groups. I had heard about this, so I asked him for the full list. He has faced the knife more times than a turkey on thanksgiving, and the list went something like major heart surgery, 3 shoulder surgeries, gastric blockage surgery, a steel plate with 6 big bolts in his back, then he breaks one of the bolts -so he had to go under the knife AGAIN! Does he make the six million dollar man sound when he skates? Nope, but he has a lot of fun. Tony, did I leave anything out?

Tony has had every possible reason/excuse to “go gently into that good night”, and he still keeps on keeping on & doing what he loves. What is your excuse?

From left to right, in a 500m women’s heat. Cindi Hart, Carla Langenthal, & Karla Cybulsky.

Another Women’s 500m race blasts off the line, from near to far, I think we have Leela Braun, Karri Cox, Alice Hagen, and Melissa Koenig.

Steve Gunther Traveled from Maryland to do this meet, and raced very well. Here he is in the lead of a 500, flanked by Dave Montgomery and Al Harding, but I am not sure who is who of those two. Steve set several age group records at North Americans this past year, and was the happiest man I have seen in a long time! Do Masters records matter? I point to Steve’s smile & satisfaction, yes, it can matter A LOT!

Bob Lawrence has competed several times in the Masters World Games, and shows excellent form here winning a 500m final right in front of fellow fast Canadian Mickey Kupchyk. I got to know Bob during a ferociously cold event in Ottawa several years ago. Bob has had several injuries this year, and is not in his usual stud form. In fact this is only his 3rd time this year on the long track. But the lure of the Masters International drew him to Milwaukee. During the awards ceremony, he said some really nice things on behalf of the 10 Canadians who came to race. He said he will return with many fast friends!!

More Carla, this time in the 3k where they threw several of the women’s categories together. Carla simply took the lead at the start and went fast. Here is Karri Cox trying to stay with her. After 4 laps Carla was alone & metric raced it all the way to the finish.

When people talk about the “fall” into a skating stroke, you can see it here if you draw a line directly down from Carla’s chin, she is leaning into the push, and this moment is when she actually starts her push, so a skate stroke is a lean-push, lean-push (beginners usually start out with this exactly the opposite, pushing into their lean). This happens very subtly on inlines too, but you can’t (or at least I can’t) be nearly as aggressive or powerful with it as you can on ice, or the wheels slip right out from under you.

As for yours truly, I had some great racing with Danny Frederick on Saturday (he was not able to make it on Sunday). Danny is a good fella, and was 6th in the Olympic trials in the 10k. We were extremely closely matched, so it was that perfect blend of searing speed and pack tactics. Danny beat me in the 1000m, I won the 800, and also won the 500m metric race with a new Pettit center personal best of 37.66, and my fastest opening 100m ever, 10.32! yeah!

At the end of everything, they always have a big group 5k. This does not count for anything other than pride, just throw everyone together on the line & have a wild salmon run mass start race with a huge pack. That’s me in the fire truck red skinsuit in the front row.

(thanks to Kathy Stutz for this pic, she also captured some start line goofing around, to see it click here).

Even standing at the start, eventual winner Matt Trimble is shadowing me (he is directly behind me). Matt saved his energy through the whole race, and made a very impressive move right at the bell. After 11 races and 15,500 meters of racing, my fast twitch fibers were completely twitched-out, and I could not match his acceleration.

Its worth mentioning that my fellow Powercranks racing team member Carla Langenthal pulled many of the 5k laps, and was leading the whole pack at a ferocious clip when the bell rang. If Powercranks are useful for two speedskaters as radically different in body/muscle fiber types as “last-lap” Langenthal and “fried after 600m” Love, then they probably are useful for everyone in between, as that is pretty much everyone. (ok, commerical over.. sorry! but they have been great sponsors for myself & Carla, and I want to thank them every opportunity I can)

Group Photo Masters Intl

I said I would post this group shot of the competitors from this weekend’s masters international, and so here it is.

Click on the image itself to see a bigger one:

I have a lot more to say about this weekend’s racing, but I wanted to post this ASAP, and before I pass out with happy exhaustion from a weekend of 11 (!!!!) races totaling 15,600 meters (!!!!).

It has occurred to me that there is a real “masters movement” across many sports. What is beginning to happen in speedskating simply reflects the cultural shift already visible in cycling, running, triathlon, etc. The difference is that in Europe masters have been organized for quite a while. Now the moment has come for North Americans to work together, hand in hand with US Speedskating & Speedskating Canada, to organize a cohesive voice & organizing committee to promote Masters speedskating.

And yes, yours truly will be a part of it, I volunteered to build the website!

Oh, and to all my European skating friends, look closely at this picture. You will get to know many of these smiling American and Canadian faces in Calgary next year, at Masters World Championships!

Chad KPRC Interview

Chad Hedrick talks with KPRC in Houston about:

  • The conflict with Shani Davis
  • How the media attention ultimately will help speedskating
  • His upcoming 10,000m race
  • What the whole Olympic experience has meant to him.

In the middle of the interview, note that Derek Parra passes by, on his way out for a night of fun, and “The Exception” is staying in, resting before he faces the 25 grueling laps of the 10k. Press the play button to listen.

Sometimes when you see an athlete being interviewed, you can tell that they are in “professional media mode”. To me, this interview sounds like Chad simply being himself. He is intensely confident, and when he loses, he blames himself for not skating to his potential.

Some call that approach cocky or brash, but if your life experience included 50 inline world championships and multiple ice championships, you could internally be a dour pessimist and come to the same conclusions & approach. This is how Chad looks at the world, and for his whole life the world has confirmed this view.

Mendota Black Ice

Earlier today, I posted a picture of the snow-covered ice of Lake Mendota. This evening I recieve an email and pair of amazing pictures from Alice Hagen.

Here is the first pic, her description of this day, and then a second picture. Clicking on both pics gets you larger & differently cropped versions:

I first joined the skate tribe as a member of the Madison clan! Skating on Lake Mendota is hard to come by. Most of outdoor skating in Madison is done on the lagoons at Vilas Park which are groomed as the weather allows. Skating on Lake Mendota takes the right combination of a hard freeze, low wind, and no snow to make for decent skating.

On January 1, 1999, I was fortunate to experience such an event with fellow skate tribe members Amy Fuelleman and Dave Evans. The lake froze solid pretty much in one night. We braved sub-zero temps to get out on the ice, and it was worth it - it was pretty much glass.

The ice was about 5 inches thick and crystal clear. The craziest part about the whole thing was that as you were skating, you could see the lake bottom about 10 feet below - this caused some vertigo while skating - especially when a fish would swim by!!!!

-Alice Hagen

Thanks Alice!! Many times, I have seen beautiful pictures of Europeans on natural ice that simply makes me sooo jealous! Thanks for helping show that we have great black ice here too!

A Dutch sports scientist once said “A winter of natural ice skating is worth more than all the scientific papers & physiological analysis of speedskating ever written!” Looking at pics like this, one can see why!

Seuss, Meatloaf, & Lakes

Travel….. The hidden gift/cost of pursing many sports. If you have gone on the road for competitons, just for fun, make a list of the places you have gone to race, post it in the comments if you want. I was shocked how long my own list became.

As doctor Seuss says in his brilliant book/poem “oh the places you will go!” (check out the full text I linked to here, its incredible! moving! wise…. & don’t get stuck in “the waiting place!)

I am in Madison, Wisconsin, visiting an old friend from High School. I am happy with life. Yesterday I did some fantastic (for me) flying laps on the ice, 400, 600, an ouchy 800. Today, I ate at Monty’s Blue Pate Diner in Madison, a place that serves something called “THE MEATLOAF OF THE GODS!” Oh the places you will go! The meatloaf you will eat! For vegetarians, Monty’s also serves “THE MEATLESS-LOAF OF THE GODS”.

Big lakes make me as happy as big mountains (as happy as good meatloaf!). Here is lake Michigan yesterday. That’s not Krispy Kreme frosting on those rocks, that’s ice!

And this is lake Mendota in Madison this morning. As an added “Where’s Waldo” bonus, click on the image to get the really big version, see if you can find the ice fisherman waaaay out there on the ice, and no, I don’t think that is skateable, it looked too rough.

America’s Cup/Junior Sprint Champs

In the center of the speedskating Galaxy, the Olympics are going on, and its tremendous gravitational pull is felt even in the outlying planets.

Even so, racing goes on all over the universe, even if all eyes are turned to Torino. This past weekend was the combined Junior National Sprint Championships/America’s cup final in Milwaukee. You can see the results here on the WASSC results pages (scroll down a bit, look for the ADT Long Track America Cup final).

I really like Milwaukee, and the good folks of the Milwaukee Skate tribe. Here are a few more faces & moments from this past weekend’s races:

This is the view down the straightaway at the Pettit, lots of people in attendance. I like the hanging snowflakes. Click on the image for a larger picture.

Here is one of the good folks of the skate tribe; Olusegun Sijuwade is possibly the physically strongest man ever to lace up skates. Really… He is a world champion powerlifter and can do things like squat 675, bench 410, and deadlift over 700+… That is scary strong. Here he is sharpening before his race.

Olu is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, and a talented musician who is often asked to play the national anthem before meets. I lived in his house for several months last winter, and now call peanut butter & jelly sandwiches “Olu Powerbars” (nutritionally, a PB & J is very close to a Powerbar, and easier to eat after a workout).

His feet are big, he does wear a size 44 skate/12 shoe, but not as big as this particular camera angle suggests.

Eleanor Poore came in from the snows of lake placid, skated huge PB’s in her first race on indoor ice. 1.5 seconds in the 500, and a whopping 5 seconds in the 1000. I have known her since she was very young, and it’s wonderful to see someone you care about develop tremendously as an athlete and a person. El, you rock!

Tiffany Wilson, a Canadian going to school in Milwaukee, took second overall in the Senior Women allaround. She is John Dimon’s step-daughter, was coached by Pat Kelly for several years, and somehow managed to fit her new dreadlocks under that hood. Her technique looks pretty good for being 1200m into the 1500m. You can really see that hip pushing into the turn, she is getting nice extension and has a controlled arm swing. Tiffany finished 2nd overall in the Allaround women.

Like myself, Steve Desotell is one of those masters who just races and races and races cause he simply loves this crazy sport. Here he is in the red & blue, 200m into his 1000, with Andrew Hodor of Saratoga springs. Steve was kidding several of the hotshot juniors saying “respect your elders”, since they were roughly 1/3 his age. Then he went out and matched the young guns step for step in every race! Here are the results for their category.

A junior national team skater, I am not quite sure who it is. But I like the lights & impressionistic flavor of the picture. This is an image grab from a video of a 1000m race, and he was haulin! p.s. thanks to Alice in the comments, this is Brent Aussprung.

Carla “last-lap” Langenthal driving for the finish. The finish line timing box is just coming into the picture on the right. Carla won the 3k in the All-around women by .07 seconds from Hedi Shockley. At racing speeds, how far is that? Head to head, over 3,000 meters, at their final lap velocity they would have been separated at the finish line by about 2 feet. (.72 meter, to be exact). I figured this out by tossing numbers through the So-Cal club’s “how fast can you really skate” speed calculator

Some might think I exaggerate when I talk about pain. Here I am 600 meters into the 1000, and then here is my face a few seconds after the finish as I am reaching to take my hood off. As 1000’s go, this one did not feel too bad. Here are the results from the Sprint Men.

Another inliner making the switch to ice, Hedi Shockley, waits for the 1500m start in typical inline down-start mode. She used a nice brew of power, fitness, and emotional intensity to win the overall of the women’s allaround. She actually slipped during this start, and then just flew the rest of the race.

Many thanks for these pictures goes to Marcia Focht, who took many of them, and to Alice Hagen, who loaned me the correct camera cable so I could download them to my computer!

Zen 2 Questions: Ryan Shimabukuro

US national sprint team coach, and good guy Ryan Shimabukuro, is right now in Torino, coaching the US men’s sprint team.

Ryan occasionally reads this blog, and he commented on my past entry, that the picture I posted was probably not Eric Heiden. I sent my thanks, updated the previous entry, and asked him via email:

Ryan, if you wanted to write me a paragraph about what the Torino experience has been like for you so far, personally and professionally, I would be honored to post it.

He got right back to me, so here it is, hot off the press from Torino, US national team coach Ryan Shimabukuro:

As for a comment on my Olympic Experience here in Torino:

Personal - These Games have meant a lot to me. As I explained to my four guys one day at the rink before the start of the Olympics, it had been a dream of mine since I saw Eric Heiden in 1980 at the age of 6 to one day represent the US at the Olympics. Although I worked hard and perservered, I never earned that privilege. But now, 26 years later, my Olympic dream has become a reality and they were a big reason why. It was an honor to be their coach for this Olympic Quad. It’s also very rewarding for all my friends & family from both Hawaii and Wisconsin because they supported me through the good times and the bad. They never gave up on me!

Professional - Four years ago, I knew I was going to have to stack our odds in order to come away with at least one medal in each of the sprint distances here in Torino. That meant, I needed to develop at least four guys that could medal in the 500 & 1000. The 1500 as well. It has been a long & demanding process but coming into these Games, I felt very confident about our chances. All four of the guys in the 500m have stood on the podium at a World Cup, World Championship and/or Olympic Games. It was unfortunate that Casey & Kip both slipped on the start of the first 500m otherwise they would have been right in the hunt for the podium. Tucker struggled here in his first Games but no one can deny that this guy has the talent to take him to the top. He did learn that the guys that succeed here put in the work, so I think he learned a big lesson. What can I say about Joey? He’s been consistent for over a month and just seemed at peace with everything. He made winning look easy in the 500, but we all know that winning is never easy and all the work he put in came together when needed.

In the 1000m, I only had Joey & Casey. Both were highly motivated to skate their best and with this being Casey’s last Olympic race, he wanted to leave nothing on the table. He did everything he could, and although he finished 9th, it might give you some perspective that he was only a mere .27 from the podium. That’s how tight the competition was. Joey rocketed off the start and skated a near flawless race. He too was very pleased about his race, saying that he skated the race the way he had envisioned.

In the 1500, Joey was going to skate for himself. He deserved that. He earned that. He blasted off hard, opening in 22.89 in the 300m, and after having the fastest 1100m split at that point, fell off a bit in the last lap to hold onto 9th place. Once again, no complaints from him. He thought it was a solid race but just overextended himself a bit early. Should be noted that this was the fastest 1500m he has skated on a lowland track.

Thanks Ryan. Many people in speedskating don’t know that Ryan also is a serious wakeboard rider, and has been a judge at pro events.

I thought about posting one of the many pictures I have of him coaching. But one of my favorite all time pictures of speedskating is of Ryan, waiting for the start at US sprint nationals in Milwaukee, probably around 1997. This is what one calls start line focus!

And it’s this focus and determination you can see in his eyes here, that finally carried him onto the ice during the Olympics as a coach, congratulations Ryan!!!

More Eric Heiden

It wasn’t as though I was nervous about winning or losing. It was… I would get nervous about the fact that I was… every time you race, you’re racing against the clock and you got to be able to dig deep and I got nervous about how much suffering and how much it was going to hurt during the race.
-Eric Heiden

I think of the Lyrics to that REM song, “Everybody Hurts“. Tonight is the Men’s Olympic 1500m, arguably the most painful speedskating event there is. The last lap is always agony, even for the best there has ever been.

p.s. thanks to US national team coach Ryan Shimabukuro, who alerted me in the comments that this is probably Dan Immerfall, not Eric Heiden, in this photo from the 1980 games. Thanks Ryan.

Sagan and Heiden

We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.
-Carl Sagan

This is true, but some fly so insanely well, that once every 4 years they gather the top monarchs & moths together, call it the Olympics, and the whole world watches, amazed that people can: (insert sport name or primary sport goal here, like launching off a vertical ski ramp, doing 5 rotations & 3 somersaults in a row, and sticking the landing).

Some names, some flights, live longer than their allotted day as well.

For an example I say one name: Eric Heiden. The more I know about this sport & the better I get, the more amazing what he did becomes, and the more admirable his life since he hung up the skates. There was a unique soul present in that unique body.

Donald Stewart pointed him out to me, during the Salt Lake world cup, sitting in the stands a few rows below us. I must admit to being waaaay too intimidated to just saunter up and say hello, also he was there as a spectator & team doctor, not to be pestered. There are lots of stories among the current top skaters, about what he is like, as he sometimes travels with the team. But I will let them say it in their own words (near the bottom of this page, I love the golf tournament story from Casey Fitzrandolph)

Gold Medals & Lost Lilly

I skated really well this past weekend, placing 3rd out of the 19 juniors and seniors in the America’s cup sprint, I even won $50 for my 3rd place, whoo-hoo! Also I am writing from one of my favorite places on this planet, the upstairs tables at the Lakeshore Alterra Coffee Shop in Milwaukee. But my heart is all churned up right now for 2 reasons.

Reason #1
Shani Davis should be triumphant in his 1000m gold medal. Incredible! Amazing! But his interview right afterwards left me really depressed. One of my cool cousins called me a few moments after the NBC coverage ended and asked me “You know these guys, is Shani a complete jerk?” No, he is not a jerk. I can barely imagine the media crapstorm he has endured, and some of the articles about him & the whole team pursuit thing were frankly stupid. Chad is visibly annoyed as well from the incessant media pounding on this simple issue.

I can only imagine that Shani was so utterly infuriated with the media, that after his gold medal, he did not want to talk with them. But it’s too bad it came across as it did to my cousin, and I imagine, others as well. It was his chance to really say “here is who I am”. It was his chance to be overjoyed, and for those of us watching to share in it. The interviewer was so flummoxed; she asked him if he was angry… Wow…

Do I know who the real Shani is? His mom has written me and said I am only an acquaintance, not a friend. I can accept that, and I totally understand her instinct to protect her son from the many people who try to glom onto someone with his talent.

How I know Shani is that last year at US nationals, I was staying at the same house as he was, and I drove him to the races each morning, and did some hanging out at the house in the evenings. I wish I could substitute the mental image I have of the soft-spoken, low-key guy for what I saw on NBC. Sure, he is a complex person, and has a complex story, and I can’t imagine how anyone could capture him in a media sound bite. I would not even begin to try.

Actually, the thing I want to really put in place of that NBC interview is Shani on the ice in Milwaukee evening sessions. Kids are drawn to him, and he relates superbly well to them, and when he is not skating too fast for them to follow, he often is completely surrounded. Before his race, he said “this is for the kids in the Evanston speed skating club”. Yeah, that is Shani… my friend Carla said that her first memory of Shani is at a short track meet, he was carrying several kids around on his back.

Sure there is skating politics going on about this and that & blah-blah, but it’s gotten out of hand, and it’s ludicrous in this happy moment, that this is being talked about, that I am even talking about it. In the paragraph of the future, still to be written, I hope people remember him for how he skated to a gold medal, and all the other championships he has won. He always wanted his skates to do the talking….

Reason #2
My dog ran off yesterday afternoon, she is still missing. I am in Milwaukee, and Jessica is at a continuing education Vet Symposium in Las Vegas. Our beloved Husky/Shepard cross Lilly was staying with next door neighbors. Lilly knows them & their dogs, and we have left her with them before. They were hiking up in the snow-covered mountain trails above our house with a whole gaggle of happy canines, and Lilly ran off.

This was yesterday. Last night it snowing, and got down to 15 degrees in urban Salt Lake. Surely it was much colder up in the hills. Lilly did not show up at home, the local shelters have not found her. Lilly is a very fearful dog, she was abused before we got her, and is quite scared of people she does not know. This was her last week, on the same trail she dissapeared from.

I have this sinking feeling that she avoided people, and froze to death last night, under some bush up in the mountains. She is an indoor dog, and has not grown the thick coat she would need to survive.

The whole family who is taking care of her is making huge efforts to search. I fear for the worst.

This is why my heart is churning. Usually, when I feel bad, looking at nature gives me some perspective, some grounding, no matter what is going on. Not today.

Here is the view of lake Michigan. I love the colors that change by the day, the shape of the shoreline, even through the blustery, damp cold. It froze my hands to take this shot (Click on the image for a huge L-R panorama). I thought of my dog, is she cold? is she still alive? Lilly, come home!!

UPDATE!!!: LILLY HAS BEEN FOUND!!! Very late last night, in a snowstorm, some good Samaritans noticed a scared and freezing dog, who was obviously lost. Lilly had headed down the hill when lost, and not uphill into the mountains, it saved her life. The good samaritans spent a lot of time to get her to trust them, (she actually jumped into their car before she would let them touch her). Lilly is micro-chipped, and has a tag indicating that she is, and the micro-chip company number. This morning, they called, and got in touch with the number on her collar. So all is well!