Fjords… Brrr…..

Pictured below, friend Jannicke Mikkelsen skating on a fjord in Norway…

However she is missing a crucial piece of equipment in this lovely photo taken on sea ice…

For more images of her actually skating in gorgeous scenery, dodging cargo ships, describing falling into the North sea, and some excellent pictures of the recent World Sprint Championships in Hamar check out her website

Claiming to speak for a group of people is usually a prescription for trouble, but I can confidently say on behalf of the Salt Lake City skate tribe:

“Janni, you are missed… Good luck and we hope to see you back here someday!!”

Speaking of being cold, the little toes on my left foot got a dash of frostbite last weekend. It’s not bad, but it reminds me of Minnesota with every ouchy step (and hack/cough, I am still sick).

Dano & Colton Barrett’s father Dan emailed me this image of the very cold master men 30-39 category doing our best impersonation of “skate ninjas.” We are in the first 50 meters of the 500 here. From L to R you have Mike Anderson, Tony Morabito, Mark Yanagihara, and myself.

Technically, there are some interesting things going on in this photo. It’s hard as a sprinter to “get over your skate” between pushes, and then create big pressure into the ice when stepping. They are opposite moments of balance that need to be executed at “blender” footspeed.

Mike and I are in the “over the skate” moment and Mark and Tony are in the “big pressure” moment. Tony stayed right on my shoulder all the way down the 100m, and Mike barely passed him at the finish line. I think Mark hit the wall somewhere during this 500m journey.

I need to shorten my arm swing a bit and turn that glide skate to be pointing directly down the ice, World Masters Speedskating Championships in Calgary is less that 3 weeks away!

Age Class Nationals

My morning coffee usually creates encouraging vibes, however check out what the napkin I picked up with my coffee on the way to Sunday’s races said:

The napkin was correct, it was brutally cold & windy too, so cold that blades felt “sticky” on the ice. You can see results from this meet at http://www.midwayspeedskating.org (here is the direct link to the .pdf file of the results)

Nationals age-class championships are a wild ride. Packstyle has a completely different & gut-wrenching immediacy compared to the stopwatch driven purity of a metric meet.

Tactics, close racing, and split second decisions combine to make racing intense, fun, and like a short track meet but with less chance of serious injury (just kidding).

Many of the categories, including the one I raced in, were undecided until the final meters of the final race (and the masters 40-49 was a dead-heat photo finish, no one knew who was national champ until they called out Matt Trimble’s name at the medal ceremony an hour after the race).

I’ve done some really intense competitions over the past two months, and I came into this meet about 50% sick, ho-hum emotionally, and with Mr. Stopwatch telling me I am not skating up to par. However I knew most of the “usual suspects” who were registered in the 30-39 age group, I went to the start line of my first race thinking I should win the meet handily.

I was in for a big serving of Hubris Pie, as inliner Mike Anderson beat me convincingly in the 1500m. I had a real battle on my hands after that. It became a VERY intense meet. Luckily Mike “played chess” in the final deciding 3k, instead of using his tremendous fitness & simply trying to rip my legs off by going hard from the gun (usually the best tactics for dealing with a strong sprinter).

I am very lucky to have won my 2nd US masters 30-39 National Championship.

Here are the pictures of the age group Champions, ages 6 to 70+ (I’m the one in the ugly furry hat, with my mouth open because I am joking about the wall of digital cameras facing us.)

I am not a superstitious person, but I sometimes take fortune cookies seriously just because it’s fun. Pacing the hallways and getting myself psyched up for that crucial 3k, I found this half torn, crumpled fortune on the ground. It was not a statement, it was a question:

It made me stop and think of all the things that have “richness” in my life; my wife, family, friends, health, luck, & whatever irrational part of my soul drives me to do something so crazy and rewarding as repeatedly skating around in a frozen circle.

I thought of the “rich” experience that a meet like this is, no matter the outcome.

The good folks that I chatted with, and even the strength of my competition, made me focus to be the best I am, win or lose. Sure, winning is great, but I had amazing experiences the first 2 times I raced masters nationals & lost to Brian Boudreau. Losing made me a better skater in the end too, as I came back more determined & prepared each time.

Just before the 3k, in anticipation of the pain we both would be facing as we raced, Steve Miller joked with me by saying “just go to your special place”. My immediate response was “but I am already there, with all of my special friends”.

Skaters… Skating… Ha! What a wonderful, challenging, rewarding, rich, heartbreaking, breathtaking sport…

Day 2, Junior Nationals

Am… exausted… long.. day… bitter… cold…. windy… ugh… lots of suffering on the ice today.. a hard, hard, day to race outdoors.. Trevor Marsicano is feeling it in his 5k here, he went quite fast through the pain. .

So with a minimum of fuss, here are the results for the final day of Junior national speedskating championships. When I went to take pictures of the results, someone had removed the men’s 1500m and ladies 1,000m.

So here is what I have:

Junior Men Overall

Junior Women Overall

Junior Men C 1500m

Junior Men 5000m

Junior Women 3,000m

P.S. the midway speedskating club has posted the offical .pdf results of the races here.

The Rose-Ville-Blues

Blue sky, light winds, and the best ice conditions I have seen in my many trips to the John Rose Oval greeted the Junior skaters at the first day of US National Championships in Roseville Minnesota.

Here are images of the result sheets. Women’s 500m, Men’s 500, Women’s 1500m, Men’s 1,500m/3,000m

And here are my video highlights from the first day, soundtrack is from one of the best cop-shows ever to grace TV, the 80’s series Hill Street Blues.

To view a high quality QuickTime video, click here, or start the YouTube below.

Personally, I race the pack-style US masters championships later today. I felt myself getting sick the day I left Salt Lake, and am coughing like a 74 Pinto (my grandma used to have one, cool car!). I just can’t wait to go skate outdoors in today’s blustery snow as Minnesota returns to its normal January form!

Petoskey

These photos are from a meet this past weekend, at the Petoskey, Michigan, outdoor long track.

In this below photo, I can almost taste that sharp-midwest chill coming out of the cold deep blue sky. You can also see photographer Tom Cole’s shadow highlighted by the low-angle winter sun.

Click on each of these photos for a bigger version.

I once thought that this was a track made out of a pond. The truth is more interesting. What Michigan speedskaters do is pack the snow over a soccer field, and then flood it to create this track.

You can see a race starting in the distance, and that odd phenomena of the light-caught skate tracks in ice, a bit like curving meteors.

The European standard has always been 400m. American long tracks in the past were sometimes quite a bit shorter. I have heard Petoskey is 300m.

Here are 3 determined skaters, racing in appropriate outdoor warm gear (unlike me, a finnish blog about competitive swimming recently poked good-natured fun at my freezing in lake placid).

Thanks again, go out to Tom for these photos.

Some might scoff at a small outdoor track, built over a soccer field, comparing it to the massive indoor facilities. How much good can it do?

I think the answer is PLENTY. Every place where skaters can gather and train/race together is a good thing. It creates community, strong clubs, friendships & fun racing.

Even if all you care about is the USA medal count at the Olympics (and there are many who only measure success this way) if there are enough clubs/communities out there, then when a phenomenal athlete who has national caliber ability comes along, he/she will find existing coaches, mentors, and somewhere to train where skaters gather. If they don’t have this, then they find another sport to excel in.

The most current visible Petoskey alumnus that I know of at the National Level is Matt Hotchkiss. He races strongly in both short and long track. Here is an image of him competing at the America’s cup this past December, during the last 800m of a 5k.

Repeat his experience over and over, in tracks all over the USA, you create a strong national scene. A hot national scene is the forge that smelts ambition and talent into world-class skaters. Create enough world-class skaters, then you will find that tiny number of special individuals who become Olympic medalists.

Who then inspire the whole cycle to begin again, in places like Petoskey, Michigan.

Hard day at the office

Catherine Raney, taking off her skates after an absolutely brutal on-ice training session. She is a tad under the weather too, so this was a day needing extra-willpower to get through. This willpower is one of many reasons she is America’s strongest female distance skater, and has a real shot at a medal in 2010.

On most days, folks in “office jobs & cube-farms” would gladly trade places with world-class skaters like Catherine. But I don’t think this would have been one of them….

Click on the image for a large, desktop happy one.

Right now I am writing up a Zen-10 questions for Catherine. She is smart & funny, so I am really looking forward to how this one turns out.

It will include such oddness as to why the folks at the USOC gave her the good-natured nickname “tollhouse”.

New Header & a Question

The new picture on the header of the blog, of my skates cutting through the water, is thanks to the previously mentioned Shadowcatcher LTD photos from the Jack Shea Sprint classic.

I think they have a ton of photos, far more than they posted. If you were one of the skaters at that meet, give them a ring, they might have the ultimate photo of you.

Here is a serious question: When I meet folks who read this blog, I often ask “what do you like the best about this blog? What would you like to see more of?” Usually the answer I get goes something like “I like the variety & unpredictable blend of stuff, keep doing what you are doing”.

The 600-700 unique visitors every day, from all over the world, makes me think this site hit some nerve. “ZATAOSS” (as a friend of mine calls this site) started out a very personal thing, I just wanted to keep my friends & family up to date with what I was doing, and capture my experience leading up to Olympic trials so I could look back on it in 20 years & have a good laugh.

But now it’s something else, a continually evolving thing. Maybe it’s a side effect of the sad fact that the total number of decent speedskating sites written in English is maybe a dozen. A sad number for a beautiful sport that deserves far better.

So for my small part to do better, and be the change, I have just been posting whatever seems fun. Right now video is fun, so I have been playing around with that (it’s worth mentioning a HUGE thanks to the folks who contributed to the tip jar! YOU made it possible!!).

If folks have opinions/ideas, I’d love to hear them. As I sadly scale back my own full-time devotion to skating, due to the hairy-clawed beast of financial necessity, this site will by necessity change, but how it will change remains to be seen.

10 things about Lake Placid

I might be slightly misquoting him, but I remember American sage Garrison Keillor once saying something roughly like this:

If you spend a week in one place, and try to write about it, you have a 50% chance of getting it right.
If you spend several weeks or even a few months, your chances rise to about 75%.
However if you spend a year, or several years, the chances get lower and lower.
You become overwhelmed by complexity as you become a part of that place, and not an observer.”

In that light, as I sit here in Salt Lake, and miss my friends & family back east, here are 10 thing about Lake Placid.

10. The last Hojo:
There are only 3 Howard Johnson restaurants left in the whole United States.

Whenever an icon is nearing extinction, it is cause for contemplation. One of the last HoJo’s is in Lake Placid, and it apparently markets itself to triathletes, as a water bottle my brother bought me there says “swim & bike & run to Hojo’s!

9. Night skating at the oval:
Colors, hard ice, & clear air on the Bunny Sheffield oval, or “the house that Heiden built”. Night skating rocks! Actually it was warm & wet during this picture. It still rocks.

8. The 1980 Olympic rink:
The rink itself is quite small, seating only a few thousand people at most. I like jogging around it to warm up in the morning. Ted Fitzpatrick recently lent me a DVD of the “miracle on ice” game against the Russians. Incredible.

The USSR outshot the USA something like 36 to 12, but the US goalie Jim Craig was amazing and the Russian goalies played like vodka was part of their warm-up. I get emotional whenever I step into that building. This image was shot at 7:15am, just as the lights were just coming on.

7. Ski Jumps:
File this particular sport under the OMIGOSH! DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO THAT!!! I simply cannot grasp what it would be like to ski off one of these things. They are scary huge, like a hotel perched on the edge of a cliff.

I took some photos, but none of them conveyed their astonishing size. Next time you are twenty stories up in a building, strap on some fat skis and jump out the window, roughly the same. Here is a better picture.

6. Maple Syrup & Science:
The tendrils of intellectual power & mind-numbing research from Cornell University extend to the remote Adirondacks & to maple syrup!!

My brother noticed this as we were driving, swerved off the road and took this picture. What do they do at this lab?? Inquiring minds want to know. But what a job! Maybe Homer Simpson’s dream job is within this lab.

5. ORDA cam:
What is happening in lake placid right now? Check out the orda cam! The camera snaps on the hour, every hour, when the 4pm shot is taken, all the speedskaters are still in the warming hut tying their laces, so unfortunately I’ve never seen a shot of pacelines whizzing around.

4. Think Snow:
The sign at the entrace to the main Olympic Complex.

The east coast ski industry, both downhill and cross country, has had a brutal early season. I wish I could loan them some of the Utah temperatures & snow.

3. The Zamboni:
This is iceman Dan Wood and the oval’s zamboni. This is the original machine they used for the 1980 games. I think it looks like a pimped out UPS truck. Conditions are brutal enough in placid that they have the driver enclosed.

Dan was a short tracker on the 1976 national team, did the ice for the 2002 US short track Olympic trials, and did the ice for a short track race where the women’s 500m world record was broken.

2. Lake Placid IronMan Triathlon
By pure chance, I have been in Lake Placid twice during the summer when this event has been going on. It’s an absolutely incredible thing to watch an Ironman distance triathlon in person. The crowds are crazy loud, the athletes incredible, and the human triumph of completing an Ironman astonishing. I have never seen so many people celebrating at a finish line.

I have raced several sprint triathlons, and have been tempted to try the longer ones. Then I remember that I have almost no slow-twtich fibres in my body! But I can still cheer loudly, and admire those who do.

1. John Dimon & Dimon Sports
When you do a google satellite image search of lake placid, you can see the oval very clearly, but the little green arrow that denotes to the center of Lake Placid, points to the doorstep of Dimon Sports!!!
When Google says you are the center of something, that counts somehow! see for yourself.

The vast majority of speedskaters in North America have spoken to John Dimon on the phone at some time. His life is skating, and it’s not too strong to say that John has been one of the central figures in a small group committed to saving long track from extinction on the east coast. Here he is, surrounded by friends of the skate tribe, handing out awards at a recent race.

John does sponsor me, so take whatever I have to say with a grain of salt. But his shop is the only dedicated walk-in speedskating shop in North America, and it exists because of his blood/sweat/tears (and gallons of diet coke!!)

Thanks John!!!

Words from Jim Shea

During the awards for the Jack Shea sprint Classic, Jim Shea, son of double gold medalist Jack Shea, and father of Olympic skeleton gold medalist Jimmy Shea (here’s his cool website) said a few words. Jim Shea himself was an Olympian in 1964 in XC skiing and Nordic combined.

I was taking pictures at first, but his brief speech was so good I switched to video mode and recorded the last 1/3rd of what he said, The audio turned out too quiet for anything other than a transcription, so here it is:

I remember when speedskating was king, they were speedskating before they even had alpine skis.

Speedskating is an old, old sport, both Judy and I have had the opportunity to go to the Olympics and World Championships, and speedskaters are nice people, they really are.

I hope you all continue to have fun speedskating, because it does not matter whether you are speedskating or skiing, or playing hockey, the important thing is to have fun.

Yaknow, we all have our ups and our downs, but if you can walk away from your venue with a smile and you feel good, then that is the important thing,

Continue! & good luck to all of you! and Godspeed.

-Jim Shea

I found his clear and honest words refreshing today, as I have had a hard time finding a good feel for the ice since I got back from the east coast and started rebuilding my fitness base.

In fact, I have felt clumsy, slow, out of sorts, and basically like a big waste of human protoplasm. It happens, it’s part of sports, and in the grander scale of human experience, pretty small potatoes.

Yet stomping out of the oval, grumbling to & at myself, these words and the decades of the Shea family sports experience informing them, helped me to smile, and come back better, and more determined, tomorrow.

One of These Days

You might have noticed that the quality of video on this blog has jumped noticeably since my old computer died. This is in large measure because my wonderful Grandfather helped me afford a REALLY powerful Mac laptop. For video editing, you do need a very fast computer.

My Grandpa just turned 92, and worked for Kodak for 32 years, so he appreciates powerful technology, and frequently reads this blog.

So, with thanks for my Grandpa, here is a compilation movie of some interesting videos I had lying around. The music is one of my favorite Pink Floyd tracks, “One of these days” from a live show they did on the BBC in 1970.

Here is the high quality Quicktime, or the YouTube below.

Video Shot List

Me, on a brutally snowy day in Inzell
Several clips of Russian Olympian Sergei Kornilov skating & lifting
Marco Bucci, Turcable and a 500m
Nate DiPalma & Myself, Dryland
Boris Leikin, Inzell (I hope to be half as strong/fast when I am 53)
A Rainbow near Ault, Colorado
Hedrick, Parra, Loquai, Meek & Macky, during a hard workout
Olu, Matt Trimble, Randy Plett & Steve Desotell
Norwegian Peter Andersen & a Finnish Skater, Salt Lake world cup
An “anonymous” rear end with Holland shorts on
Dutch skater & 2002 Gold Medalist Gerard van Velde, almost smacking into a Russian.
Scott Koons & the F.A.S.T. team
Tony Davis, plyometrics
Liam Ortega in Calgary, some years ago.
Mia Manganello, at the end of a 3k (I crashed hard taping this, but I love this section)
Myself crashing, twice in Salt lake & then almost getting run over by Paul Marchese in Lake Placid
Marco Bucci, tripping & almost crashing into me
Eva Rodansky, ripping out some turncable
Eva Rodansky the last few steps of her final race, Olympic trials
The speedometer of my car, somewhere in VERY rural Colorado
2-time Olympian Marc Pelchat, whoosh!!!
Marc Pelchat & Tucker Fredericks, Olympic trials (video actually shot by Ray Medley, but waaay too cool not to include, as these guys both opened in 9.61)
Derek Parra, goofing around
Derek Parra, final corner of his 1500 at Olympic trials, he passed Chris Callis & made the olympic team at this moment.
Joey Cheek & Joji Kato. Kato setting the world record
Chad Hedrick setting the 10k world record during Olympic trials. This final lap was a 28!