Salt City Sprints

The speedskating season is quite long, and after the stress of national champs, it’s a really good idea to do a mid-season fitness rebuild that involves plentiful cross-training.

Usually this involves the weight room or the bike. The US national team often goes somewhere warm for a week of long rides. However, this is not an option for the rest of us.

When a friend sent me the link to this bike event happening in a local bar, the Salt City Sprints, I just had to go!

Although wintertime indoor cycling races have been around for over a century, this modern version of it involved one of my favorite strange American sub-cultures; the fixed-gear urban cyclist crowd.

I’ve ridden a track bike on the city streets since 1993 (for training, never really for commuting) and it’s been so much fun to see the explosion of interest in fixed-gear riding & the distinct cultural identity that has become attached something I’ve done on my own for years.

I thought it was mainly a young hipster thing, but there was really quite a diverse & playful crowd there for the sprints. That is one of the fun things about bikes, (or speedskating for that matter) the love of an activity can cross all sorts of lines.

I had my camera with me, and about halfway though did some taping, just because the event was so cool.

Click here for the high quality Quicktime, or press play below for the youtube.

There is an interesting psychological footnote to this. This was a fun event, but it did center around a “race”.

When it was my turn to ride, my extremely intense competitive nature naturally bubbled forth.

I am a sprinter by nature & nurture, and I wanted to show that, even though speedskating ability does not necessarily mean you can spin 220+ RPM on a track bike.

These were time trials, as fast as you could go for “250 meters”. Everyone rode once, and that was supposed to set up elimination rounds between the top 16.

When it was my shot for the time trial, I rode pretty well, and as I staggered away from the bike, I heard the times announced.

I heard the time of the fellow who rode next to me, and thought it was my own. It was not a good time. I watched guy after guy, and even some women, go faster.

I was pissed off, mostly at myself, for having that prideful, competitive kernel bouncing around my innards like a spiked superball.

Eventually, I did find out my true time, and felt much better, as it barely qualified me for the top 16. I would get to ride again.

However, as the evening wore on, it became quite obvious that the “times recorded” were all off, as the computers were not registering correctly, and in fact, the organizers were forced to just use one bike & do hand timing. So the results became “wildly impressionistic” rather than accurate.

But because of my earlier moment of timing confusion, I started wondering why “racing” is so damm important to self-esteen. Why do some of us so enjoy measuring ourselves vs other people? & why do the crowds cheer so loud?

They seemingly got the computer working for the final round of 16, I was one of the first to ride, and I guess with some combination of my size, power, & lack of grace, I killed the computer (the moment in the video that goes from fast to slow-mo, that is that moment).

I’ve done this before; I once broke a treadmill in a professional lab during a VOmax test when I was 19, I have snapped the downtube on several bikes & crushed maple clap blade mechanisms. I guess I just break stuff when I go as hard as I can.

I don’t blame the organizers, they were doing their best, and without them, I would not have had so much fun. But should I blame myself for caring so much? Especially when I see prizes being handed out.

Is unleashing that nasty spiked superball on your guts a necessary personality trait to have, if you want to be someone who can win races when it really counts?

Desktop Friendly #1

Looking through my photography archives, I found many things that would make fine desktop backgrounds, or simply just nice things to look at.

So here is the first, in what might become a series (what should I call the series?).

This is an image of 2-foot thick natural ice at Keystone, Colorado, & a favorite training hat of mine that was new then, but I wore it till it wore out.

This pic was taken February 25th, 2002. Click on the image for a larger one.

Blue Demon vs Wind

He must have followed us, snuck into a suitcase, or knew where we were going. The masked one wanted more from this sport.

El Blue Demon has had a taste of speedskating, and he accepts only the greatest challenges.

And across the ice, a challenger appears, skating like the wind…

No, actually, IT IS THE WIND. Normally, the wind is an invisible force, but this is a special wind. You can see the Opening Ceremonies for the 2002 Olympic Games on youtube here, that is where this wind is from. This was the last “gust” in that whole line of winds (they appear right at the beginning, 38 seconds into the video).

The wind catches up to El Blue Demon

Immediately they start racing, one man vs the wind. Every speedskater knows that fighting the wind is the greatest challenge outside of your own mind & body

(to be precise, according to Dutch research, ice speedskaters face roughly 80% wind resistance & 20% frictional forces. And as they go faster, the wind-resitance percentage cubes in relation to velocity)

They raced and raced, and finally ended up in hand-to-hand combat. A total contest of willpower vs windpower, muscle vs nature.

But this match was a draw, for wind cannot break the heart of a mentally strong athlete, and no athlete can ever truly overcome the constant pushback of wind.

The two exhausted warriors coasted next to each other, in the silent respect born from total effort.

Later, after the evening of racing (it was the Utah State winter games at the oval on this day) the public filled the ice, unaware of the titanic struggle that had taken place earlier.

Maybe that is for the best.

Pictures from Mexico

Again, my senses are happily overwhelmed. Mexico city… WHAT an experience. Here are a few images that hopefully can give a small impression of the last few days.

When it’s 72 degrees outside, why should one wear a full-length skinsuit? Life is about having unique experiences; skating short track in an inline skinsuit definitely qualifies. Yes, crashing would suck, but not as much as crashing on pavement.

Skating in Mexico is different- at night, I thought I saw bats flitting around streetlights, in the morning hundreds of frozen potato-chip-like bodies of HUGE MOTHS littering the ice.

My skate gives a good size reference.

I have not had the pleasure of spending time around Travis Jayner until this trip. He is not only a world-class short track skater, but also an excellent fellow with a great sense of humor. Here he is with a little skater who sends the cute-o-meter into overload, and later than same day, doing pivots on his left hip!

This image was just before his hip touched the ice, he wanted to do a pivot on his head, but there was not enough time. Have you ever warmed up behind a skater, and even at slow speed just can see their astonishing ability? Travis has some “serious game”.

Speaking of games, during an evening practice session, a mystery speedskater swept onto the ice, in a Bont T-Shirt and traditional Mexican wrestling mask. He circled the rink daring anyone to take him on-

Luckily, Olympic gold medalist Derek Parra was up to the challenge, the match was on!

Even though he lost, he remains unmasked, I will leave it up to this “Bont Avenger” if he will reveal his secret identity here. Or maybe someday he will appear at the Salt Lake Oval, or your local oval, ready to match blades & moves with anyone strong enough to take him on.

Here is a figure skater defying gravity during a calmer moment of that same practice session.

Actually, its not just any skater, that’s Ana Cecilia Cantu, the national champion of Mexico, she finished well at Oceana champs last year, and then competed at worlds. She’s an absolute sweetheart, Jessica & I truly enjoyed spending time with her (Jess was able to come along on this trip, and took all of these photos).

It was interesting speaking with figure skaters like Ana, and learning about their sport. This is her below, during the performance. Just like speedskating, a lifetime of work to be able to do something for the briefest moment.

At moments, I really feel like we are doing the same sport, the mental factor, visualization, the doubting yourself, the huge sacrifices necessary, injuries, coaches, traveling, technique, staying healthy under huge training loads, the support of family & friends, no guarantees of anything, etc, etc.

But in other aspects, we are worlds apart.

They face judges, long trackers like me face the electronic eye (short trackers face other skaters, the electronic eye, and judges).

No one cares if a speedskater “looks” ugly when they skate, as long as it’s fast, figure skaters value asthetic and precision, and even though their heart rate will hit a maximum by the end of a long program, they must hide the effort & smile while attempting incredibly difficult things.

Also, I’ve never worried about if my make-up is sweatproof!

I have huge respect for them.

There was quite a bit of international-skater vibe, on the left is Jackie, from Guadalajara. In the center is Alexi, from the Ukraine, and on the right is “rather famous skater” Surya Bonaly from France.

I had a totally star-struck moment when I realized that was Surya, she looks so powerful on the ice, but in person, she is TINY, and with tremendous personality. She’s intense, opinionated, and a lot of fun. She lives & coaches in Vegas, and during the performance, did one of her signature backflips.

As for the performance, it was the closing ceremony for the rink, around half a million people had skated on it FOR FREE since the Mexican government opened it.

They had cleaned all the frozen moths off the ice, put around 7-10,000 people in the stands & around the rink, and had a FAR larger Live TV audience. Possibly many hundreds of thousands in 7 countries.

But this is not a blog about figure skating, it’s about speedskating!

And there was a reason that I was in Mexico, it was for a tiny slice of TV time. For the hour long live show, they had the speedskaters lead off the whole evening of festivities (probably because we could not skate on jumped-on-chewed-up ice)

Kim Kraan gave us the start-

To the wild cheers of the crowd, Eric Kraan, wearing his Mexico team skinsuit, led us for the first few laps

I passed Eric and had one lap sprinting as hard as I could in the front (Derek said I kicked up big chunks of ice, making him flinch as he followed).

Then Derek & Travis decided to actually get serious, one passed on my left, one on my right with an audible whoosh!

Derek hit the warp speed button-

Then Travis went ludicrous speed.

And crossed the line quite a bit ahead, to the wild applause and chants of the crowd.

That tiny moment of TV was why there were speedskaters in Mexico.

Mexico City’s Mayor

I awken from the daily daydream, and am in one of those moments where every second is as shockingly alive as possible.

I am back in Mexico, on the stage at a press conference for the closing ceremony of the Pista Del Helio (I think my powerslide last time I was here got me invited back).

The mayor of Mexico city, Marcelo Ebrard, sits down next to me, and a phalanx of cameras start chittering like a swarm of pixel devouring insects.

How did this my life place me here? What???

I’m invited to be one of about 8 people to say a few words, including Eric Kraan, a figure skater from Russia, the Mexican National Figure skating champion, and the Mexican hockey player who won the Red Bull crashed ice qualifying round.

All of us speak, then the Mayor takes his turn addressing the crowd. I don’t understand Spanish, so I watch his body language. This guy is smooth, engaging. I’ve seen a couple of top politicians up close, this guy is a true pro.

As he returns to the line, I ask him, “You spend much of your life in front of cameras, in events like this, do you get less nervous than you used to?”.

He replies:

Yes, it has gotten better over time, but the problem is, those cameras keep chasing me.

We looked back out towards the swarm of hungry lenses, and the open mouths of TV cameras & newspaper reporters scribbling furiously in notebooks.

Eric Kraan leans over to me and says, “hey Andrew, I just wanted to let you know, the translator introduced you as an Olympian.” Eric winks & says “congratulations!”

Oh… my… god….

Masters in Milwaulkee

For those who raced (or are just interested) Ross Hanham just sent me a scanned in copy of the placings & lap times for the Masters sprints, and I .pdf-ed the excel worksheet Carla made of the final results.

Carla also mentioned an interesting fact in the comments from the last post, that the lowest samalong point total as compared to age, was achieved in this meet by Bruce Conner.

That should be an award of it’s own as well!

After races on Saturday, skaters were doing cool-down laps. I grabbed my camera, and did some following.

Click here for the high quality Quicktime, or press play for the YouTube below.

The silver haired skater in the Maryland skinsuit is 66 year old Steve Gunther, Olu is in the 45-50 age category, & Canadian Ross Hanham is in the 50-55 age group.

The reason I mention their ages is because there are some who think masters racing is a waste of time, and there are a few, backwards-thinking clubs out there that don’t accept masters.

Wake up & smell the 21st century! Skaters like Steve, Olu, & Ross, even when just cruising along, rewrite the algorithms of possibility in every step they take. People talk about pursuing sports for the “love of it”, you will not find better examples of that than Masters speedskaters.

There is a Masters Movement happening across all sports, the largest swimming meet EVER was a recent masters event in Japan, the vast majority of cyclists & triathletes are Masters. Masters are the backbone of so many skating clubs, and true intergenerational training is a unique aspect of speedskating that benefits everyone.

How many other sports have all age groups training and racing so equally as speedskating? (since technique recognizes no age divide).

I am very proud of my small contribution to the Masters Movement in speedskating.

Masters International American Sprint

(minimal time to write, am SLAMMED with so much to do, it’s stupid-silly)

Last march Brett Arnason (the Canadian Rep) & I realized that the momentum from master’s worlds needed to be followed up with IMSSC metric races for the newly energized North American masters community.

In April & June, I made a lot of phone calls to see if an American race was possible.

In August, at the IMSSC summer meeting in Krefeld, Germany, I proposed a new race, and everyone was supportive.

Then in October-November, I worked really hard getting the entry form together. In December, a great bunch of people helped tremendously on the organizational details of actually making a race happen (in fact, they did most of it).

This past weekend, January 5th & 6th, 33 Masters Speedskaters arrived in Milwaukee, and we all had a great time at the first Master’s International American sprint. The Masters International Canadian Open, will happen February 9th-10th in Calgary.

Here is about 75% of us in a group photo from this Past weekend.

Skaters traveled from Washington, Michigan, Maryland, Calgary, Toronto, Utah, Illinois and Minnesota for the event.

Ross Hanham was part of the Canadian contingent that traveled to compete, and he wrote a very kind post about this event on his Masters Newsblog, you can see it here.

Here are a couple of images of the racing. On the top you have Jan Zurcher, who traveled down from Seattle to put some of her sprint power to good use.

Olusegun Sijuwade was the meet registrar, or “meet head” as we affectionately dubbed him. He also skated some really nice races on Saturday. Check out how far back his weight is in this photo!

Interestingly enough, he is skating on a pair of Corey Carpenter’s old Viking blades, with a clap mech welded on

Tom Cole has worked really hard to get ready for his upcoming trip to Germany and Master’s worlds. He is not a sprinter, but has worked himself into great shape, and his form in the last 200m of a 1k looks great.

Ken Anderson, also styling his way through a 1k. Ken is a very talented runner, blogger, and is working hard on his ice technique. Like Tom, he’s riding a nice flat edge here.

Julie Hough was one of the Canadians who made the trip to Milwaulkee. She is in the cool-looking Canadian masters skinsuit.

I’ve always thought in long track metric racing, improving vs yourself is what it’s all about. So I’ve created an award that reflects this. The Most Improved Personal Best award.

Myron Yencha has improved A LOT since I first met him, and skated an excellent PB here in a 1000m. He took about a second off his previous time, and that was good enough for 2nd place in the most improved PB contest won by Bill Armstrong, who knocked 1.46 off his 500m.

There is improving vs yourself, and then there is improving the record books. Canadian Brett Arnason came to speedskating late in life, and along with about 5 other skaters, had a real shot at the sprint samalong record.

However the weather did not provide the right conditions for fast times. It was foggy, humid, warm, rainy, & high air pressure outdoors, so although the ice at the Pettit was good, the air was like skating through a soggy mitten.

I carried my peak over well from US nationals last week, felt snappy, and the times I skated were 1.6 seconds slower than my 500m sea-level PB, and 2.4 slower for my 1000. Ouch… That is some slow air…

Overall, the meet felt like a success, and the Saturday night party at Olu’s was a wonderful gathering of like-minded souls.

A few people deserve huge thank-yous for helping make this happen

Suzy Osum did incredible work getting us meet sponsors Shorewest realty, Barbara A. Smith Home Interiors & Gift and the Wisconsin Athletic Club.

Olu did an amazing job organizing the meet registrations

Carla Langethal was an excellent proofreader of my terrible spelling/grammar, a realistic sounding board, and helped me with the million little things.

Cindy Yomantas at the Pettit was awesome & encouraging in too many ways to mention (and she helped us out with cool Pettit Ice center wear as prizes!). Jeff Edwards & Jeff Brand took care of officials, volunteers, & timing.

In the last second, Jen Kraynick, Mike Anderson & Steve Desotell stepped in and helped calculate the awards and final samalong points, as our masters categores made the official computerized results unhappy.

And even though he was not here, thanks must go to Dr. Volker Serini, in Germany, for starting the IMSSC

USA Sprint Nationals –video

With many young teenage sprinters starting to skate “man-fast”, US sprint nationals in the men’s category was incredibly competitive. And in the women’s racing, if you wanted to win, you would have had to beat Elli Ochowicz, who was ON, skating several PB’s that weekend.

You can see the Men’s results here, and here are the women’s.

The soundtrack I chose is a song by the Black Crowes, “Twice as Hard”. It fits.

It was a rough competion, as I was warming down after my last race, I saw some spots of blood on the warmup track, the fact that it could have been from quite a few different people gave me pause.

Click here for the high quality quicktime, or press play for the YouTube.

When I see friends crash, in pain, or have bad races, I often question if I should publish the footage I have.

Kip Carpenter opened nationals up with quite a horrifying crash, and Richard Gregersen got a GREAT video angle of from the stands. Kip didn’t mind it being published, so it leads off the video. Thanks Richard!

Jessica also added some clips here as well.

Kip cut his ankle pretty badly in the crash, and had to have stitches. When I mentioned that I had this pic, people wanted to see it, so here it is, with the expert hands of Dr. Eric Heiden sewing & stapling it up.

Kip raced all 4 events of nationals on it. Ouch. Thanks to his fiancé Inge for the photo.

p.s. is there a YouTube samurai out there that can give me compression/upading/quality hints? I’ve tried MANY differnent formats, read endless forums, and it’s not as good as I wish it could be, slo-mo looks great, but the normal shots are often fuzzy

p.p.s anyone have a copy of Final Cut Pro (for an intel-mac) they could share with me? I think it’s compression methods are better than iMovie.

US LT Allaround Champs, video

As I was starting to go through my footage from this competition, I suddenly realized how many clips I had of skaters with their parents. Even though speedskating is an individual sport, no athlete steps to the starting line alone.

I often see families in the stands soar & suffer right along with their kids on the ice. There is a lot of that at US national championships. This Guns & Roses anthem just came to my mind as the natural soundtrack.

Press play to start the youtube, or click here for the high quality quicktime.

I have a knack of catching Mike Blumel on video right after he takes himself to the limit in a 1500m. He had a great race here, good enough for 4th place in a very competitive field.

Mike is a pure sprinter, and has to go out scary fast, and then pay for it in the finishing lap. I did ask his permission to include his waltz with the garbage can here, because I know his folks are readers.

It is a testament to how much focus speedskating takes, that you can be getting your armband, or stepping to the start line, and hear someone puking behind you because of EXACTLY what you are about to go do-

and you go race hard anyway…