North Americans, Pack-style!

Pack style racing! Love it or hate it, it’s a whole different expression of the sport than metric time trials. Pack racing is intense, exciting, mano-a-mano (or womao-a-womano) and combines strategy with the unique skill to change speeds quickly, as frequently the races are quite tactical until an intense acceleration to the finish.

Times don’t really matter as much as finishing first. There are pack style records, I have a few of them, but they are VERY difficult to achieve when you have a whole bunch of people sitting in your draft just waiting to slingshot past you in sight of the finish!

Here are some pictures I took at today’s North American pack style meet. North Americans is a joint US-Canada meet, and has a lot of the top younger skaters going head to head with each other. Notice that many of the skaters look like they have yellow socks on, that actually is Kevlar or neoprene protection for their ankles/achilles in case they get kicked by someone else. If you look closely you can also see the bump from soccer shinguards under several skinsuits as well.

These are all fairly young skaters. Quite prominent in these shots is the red and blue of the Quebec speedskating association. Montreal alone has more skaters in its club system than the USA has skaters (about 2,000). Their selection races are intense, and the skaters they send to meets like this are usually terrific, in both short and long track. There are also a lot of blue and black uniforms in these pics, that’s Alberta.

For a long time, pack style speedskating was the only kind of speedskating in North America. Today for Masters skaters in the US, pack-style is the only competition we skate with our “peers”. I did outdoor inline racing for years, and I like packstyle, even though it’s hard to switch mental gears after so much metric-centric training.

If it weren’t for the fact that North American Pack Championships was in Salt Lake this weekend, I would have been couch surfing for sure, as I am emotionally blah & jet lagged after my European trip. But I would have been kicking myself if I had skipped it.

Also these races were my last chance to renew a very intense and friendly rivalry with Brian Boudreau. Brian has won US master’s 30-39 Packstyle Nationals the last 4 years in a row, (twice with me simmering in second place). We are very closely matched, with most of our races being decided by less than .2 of a second, but Brian has been consistently that .2 better at pack than I am, tactically, technically, and physically.

Today’s races were the usual Andrew & Brian deathmatch, with him crushing me in the 1500, and me barely squeaking out a 1000m win by .17. However the refs threw in a bit of speedskating politics, and disqualified Brian in the 1500m because he was wearing a US national team skinsuit in a championship race. He has never been on the national team, & the rules say you can’t wear the USA in top races unless you have earned it. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about how different minor sports approach the thorny issues surrounding sponsorship & money.

Suffice it to say, Brian did break a rule, but it was sad that the rigid enforcing of this rule took away his excellent racing in the 1500m. This is such a small sport, why not just let us race & give Brian a warning instead of a DQ? You could not even see the USA through his racing bib number! Would a few strategically applied pieces of Duct tape be okay?

I understand the issues, and there are very complicated, emotional, & nuanced arguments for both sides. But I find it somewhat strange that US speedskating is currently threatening legal action against some top skaters who are not wearing the official US speedskating sponsors, but when an excellent skater who has poured many years of his life into this sport, and was given a suit EXACTLY like this one to wear at Olympic trials a few weeks ago, wears those logos, ooooooh! Baaaaad!

I shouldn’t even wade into this argument, as it’s an EXTREMELY emotional one right now in the upper echelons of skating, and it does not impact me at all. I think I will just leave this with the idea that most professional cycling teams are flattered when someone wears one of their jerseys.

Tomorrow will be my last chance to race Brian packstyle until the 2011 season, as he is not going to US Masters champs in Minnesota next weekend, and next season, he will be racing with the 40-49 category! Watch out guys, the Boudreau express is a hard one to follow!

One Response to “North Americans, Pack-style!”

  1. thanks for the peek at todays’ comp, andrew.and congrats! i couldn’t get free to make it out there. and of course there’s no coverage of the events reported anywhere today, if there is let me know!

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