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Zen and the Art of Speedskating » Petoskey

Petoskey


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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.

30 Responses to “Petoskey”

  1. I wish more communities allowed their soccer fields to be flooded for skating. What a great way to use the public space during the winter!

  2. I had a lot of fun racing and staying with friends in Petoskey. It’s still long track, even if it’s a little smaller…I’ll always have tons of good things to say about skating there! That was where I skated my first long track meet, with my short track blades shifted to the middle of my boots, and felt like I could do a good job of racing long track.

  3. I don’t think it is the unwillingness of communities to allow fields to be flooded that is the problem. It is more the unwillingness of God/Jehova/Allah/Bruce/Nature/Luck/who-or-whatever-else-you-believe-in to allow them to be frozen that is screwing things up.

  4. Wow,

    A True Diamond In The Rough :)

  5. Petoskey-ites, a quick question..

    it’s actually 250 meters, right?

    I have never been there, so I don’t know, but I hear people talk about it in the same affectionate tones east-coast skaters use for Lake Placid..

  6. I just got a follow-up email from the Photographer, Tom Cole..

    he says:

    The three people in the pace line are Ann Fox, West
    Michigan Speedskating Club, Ron Scholefield, Alpena
    Speed Skating Club, and Bill Steffel, Petoskey Speed
    Skating Club.

    Petoskey is a 250 meter track.

    The turns in Petoskey feel like turns in Salt Lake City on a fast day, … not because the Petoskey ice
    is great (although it was Saturday), but because the
    turns are tighter. In Michigan, we skate short track
    and medium track. We have to leave the state for long
    track!

  7. if the A.S.U. was still in existance then there may be more luck of having a larger bace of skaters and more long track ovels. soon there may be few if any ovel/skaters and fewer places on world cup teams. Ive never been part of a disfuntional sport like speed skating.
    SpeedSkating should be a huge sport its a hell of a lot cheeper than ski racing and you can find a hocky rink in just about any city. If speedskating fails as a sport in this country it only has its self to blame…. Caleb the skier

  8. I love Petoskey!!! It is one of my all-time favorite places to skate. Next to the rink is a small ski hill with a rope tow. I remember bringing my snowboard to competitions, and after the races were over, I’d spend the rest of the day on the hill.

    Seeing these pictures of Petoskey made me look back on my speedskating career through the eyes of my 14-year-old self, and it made me glad that at the time I was unable to foresee my future in the sport. I agree with Caleb. USSPEEDSKATING is without a doubt the most dysfunctional organization I’ve ever experienced.

  9. In response to Fred’s comment on reluctant freezing: I’ve seen a unique solution to the problem of “global warming” right here in Salt Lake City on the “Fastest Ice on Earth.” When the compressors have to be cranked down due to financial considerations, the ice tends to creep back from the rope, exposing several inches of concrete and leaving the rope flopping around. One day, I saw that the rope had been frozen securely into the ice again, and I thought it was good, until I realized that they had moved the rope out to where the ice was!

    Fortunately, I’ve heard that the Norwegian team will be arriving here soon to train, and that they’ve been promised fast ice conditions.

  10. On building a community of speedskaters: There are a lot of possibilities for promoting speedskating as a fun recreational activity (such as marathon training sessions and racing, etc.) But here at the Utah Olympic Oval, what I’d really like is, JUST ONCE, when I or one of my “co-conspirators” come up with some sort of idea to run by the management, to hear the words, “Let me think about it and get back to you,” instead of always a flat-out “NO.”

  11. I’m from one of those little short track clubs in northern california. It’s a great community of people.

    I just wish the US Speedskating would do more for the club level skater. The racing blade at minimum used to have tips from US Speedskating coaches. Now we don’t even get that.

    The sport can’t excel in a vacuum.

  12. What this sport needs is thousands and thousands of dorks

  13. Hi Everyone,
    You can imagine my surprise when I landed on this blog. I had been looking for a picture of a speedskater. I guess that I was ment to land here. I am Holly Russell. Ed and I hosted the Petoskey skating meet. It was wonderful to hear from Carla and Eva again. Greetings! We too have fond memories of your visits to our house and to the rink. Your memories warmed my heart. Speedskating is a wonderful sport and we must all do our part to pass it on to the next generation.

  14. Hosted is right! The Russell family let 3 of us poor skaters stay at their house for a weekend. Great to hear from you as well, Holly.

    Anyone who’s read the old “Ray C. Rodent Novice Speedskating Handbook” knows that speedskating is often promoted as a “warm sport on cold ice.” Within the Michigan speedskating family, that is definitely the case.

    Yes, Fred, dorks are good people, and we need more of them!

  15. Holly, we loved staying with you all those times! You know how to make people feel part of your family in addition to providing a lovely place to stay and skate. It is also nice to see some of your Petoskey group here (in Milwaukee) sometimes!

    I think David, Andrew’s brother, is a good judge of dorks, right? (Often calling Andrew one :) ) You guys could start recruiting.

  16. The ice sheet i we skated on in northern mich was flooded snow, also, and it was a 250 m. ‘medium track’ but as kids we thought it was pretty long at the time.
    we also had a rope-tow ski hill, and divided our long winter months between that, speedskating, and building our own 30m ski jumps, but best of all was the couple or 3 times a year in the early season when the lakes froze quick and deep, with that REALLY ‘the world’s fastest ice’.
    I venture that Fred was alluding speedskating needs a few thousand MORE dorks, as that is pretty much what non-speedskaters call us behind our backs anyway.

  17. You’re all dorks! Well, my wife has been calling me a dork a lot lately. So as the saying goes, “It takes one to know one,” Dorks Rule!

  18. We are a strange but lovely breed, aren’t we??

  19. We should get more of the cycling dorks to cross train with us, goodness knows they are all about pain and suffering, plus they love “techie” stuff.
    What a dream, to have an ice sheet AND a ski hill, I might have never come in from the cold as a kid!

  20. wouldnt it be great if past national team members could coach teams here in the US and get payed well to do so. To bad it will never happen due to peoples greed in this sport. If people in this sport could think out side of the box great thing could happen for all. ive got thousands of ideas that in the long run will make me bank. if you want on board contact me in 2 years and save you money.

  21. I went to high school about an hour from Petoskey and came into Petoskey several times a year for school activities. I never remembered seeing a speedskating track, but, then, I wasn’t looking for one.

  22. Hello Holly and Ed Russell ! Its been a long time and I am pleased and proud you both , along with Bill Steffel, have continued the truely fine tradition of Petoskey Speedskating , especially at the Petoskey Winter Sports Park ! The pics are great , and it brings back so many wonderful memories for me and my family. I grew up on this rink in my youth , back in the 1960’s , spent countless hours “doing laps” (listening to old Beatles albums from the old clubhouse… on what we called (when we were lucky enough to have it this large) a 6-lap (per mile) track.

    I live in Ann Arbor, Mi now , as does my brother Gary also . we have all these “indoor” rinks around us now (unlike when we were kids in Petoskey) , and there are of course no speedskaters. I have my old pair (s) of speedskates still . If any of you could somehow direct me on how I may obtain a ‘newer pair’ of blades I would love this so I could again do a few laps ! I have a 10 yr old daughter also and would love to see her on speedskates too !

  23. This picture brings back some wonderful memories for me. When I was a kid (in the seventies and eighties) I’d skate this rink like there was never a tomorrow. In my mid-thirties now, I recently went ice skating for the first time since skating this rink when I was a child, and when I tripped, hit the ice, then grit my teeth to hide the intense pain I felt. I thought to myself, “I don’t ever remember Petoskey Winter Sports Park ice being this hard!”

  24. I skated and trained in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on a 6 lap track for years, with a few others, including past Junior World Champ Brian Smith, 3 time National Champ Matt Trinble, and 6 Time North American Champ Mike Greenland. These guys always had their game face on when skating the smaller track.
    The races were alot different , Greenland was a master at the sprints 220 yards, 1/6 mile, 440 yards,
    1/3 mile and 880 yards.
    Trimble and Smith were the distance guys skating 3/4 mile, 1 mile, 2 mile and 5 mile. But on the smaller track that was a lot of laps and Greenland would draft and win most of the time. Tight corners made him the man to beat, as he was fast and had a great start and corner.
    6 lap track was a blast to skate, then going to big 400 meter track was alot easer skating the corners.
    Hard to believe Greenland skated a 220 in 16.8 seconds, a Mile in 2:27.

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  26. The ice sheet i we skated on in northern mich was flooded snow, also, and it was a 250 m. ‘medium track’ but as kids we thought it was pretty long at the time.
    we also had a rope-tow ski hill, and divided our long winter months between that, speedskating, and building our own 30m ski jumps, but best of all was the couple or 3 times a year in the early season when the lakes froze quick and deep, with that REALLY ‘the world’s fastest ice’.
    I venture that Fred was alluding speedskating needs a few thousand MORE dorks, as that is pretty much what non-speedskaters call us behind our backs anyway.

  27. I remember very well the track in Petoskey; I officiated meets there (and many other places) for 42 years, with many fond memories. Petoskey’s rink, surrounded by the hills was a beautiful place to skate. Good to see that Bill Steffel is still active–he’s a great guy, and speed skating needs people like him.

  28. I remember Petoskey as well but for different reasons.
    I have sailed and raced sailboats in that bay most of my life.
    Gorgeous scenery and great sailing!
    The “Harbor Springs” race week brings some of the world’s best sailing talent to the area and is one giant party!

  29. Maybe you should ask him yourself. Known Mike all my life and know this is just a slam against him and all he has done in the world of speedskating. I work for the linn county sherriffs department, I would know if this was true.

  30. Hi Mark–

    Although I live in Grand Rapids, MI now, I started speedskating on Robbins Lake In Cedar Rapids, IA back in the mid-90s. We skated on old used Planerts with skate guards made out of worn-out industrial belting that someone in the “club” got from work. The track was carved out by a pickup truck pulling a slab of steel to scrape off the snow and smooth the ice. The season was only from mid-December through mid-February. Skating after work under the lights after dark, if it weren’t for the fire in the Manhattan warming hut, we’d have all frozen to death!

    So, is that the 6-lap track that you mentioned? I see that ISSA skates indoors now but I’m wondering if there are still folks out carving the ice in the mid-winter moonlight.

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