West Coast club aims to widen interest in speed skating throughout province

Kenn Oliver
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Corner Brook's Roger Zilkowsky admits the growth of speed skating in this province will be "a slow process", but that doesn't keep him from having lofty expectations.

"I think in 10 years, we should have somebody from Newfoundland on the national team," says the president of the Humber Valley Speed Skating Club, the only such club on the island.

With no official governing body, the Sioux Lookout, Ont., native is also the president of the ad-hoc provincial association.

Last month, Zilkowsky and Todd Landon, Speed Skate Canada regional development mentor for Atlantic Canada, met with the Department of Culture, Tourism and Recreation to find out what tools and supports might exist to help develop the sport and establish its own provincial sports organization.

"It has given us a direction to follow, how to get this introduced and let people know there will be a support system for people who might want to skate, but not play hockey or do figure skating," Zilkowsky said.

Speed skating has been around on the province's west coast for some time - an outdoor oval was built for the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Pasadena - and the province has always sent athletes to compete in short track speed skating at Canada Winter Games (though only one, Corner Brook's Bronwyn Woolfrey, competed at the last 2011 Games in Halifax).

Still, when Zilkowsky got involved, he could see the 25-member club was skating on one leg. He took the reins and this year established an executive.

The club, whose members range from 5 to 47 years old, skates out of the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook, which helps them become better speed skaters according to Zilkowsky.

"Skating in the bigger centres, it's harder to keep the temperature down and we end up on this softer ice and the kids have to work harder and in turn become stronger skaters," he explained.

Landon says not having any long track, 400-metre facilities isn't as big a detriment to the development athletes as most would believe. In fact, it's the other way around.

"Short track, on the hockey rinks, is where the fundamental speed skating skills can be developed," he said.

"At the national level, you actually see a lot of the skaters on the national team come from short track or the majority of their development has been on the short track."

Athletes who train exclusively on short track are limited in speed, however, says Landon.

"It's a little smaller, so they have to hold back a little. On bigger, international size ice, they can wind it up and go pretty quick."

Zilkowski is also hopeful he can bring speed skating to schools.

"In Corner Brook, the kids in Grade 4 get cross-country skiing, in Grade 6 they can sign up for downhill. Maybe in one of those grades they should be able to sign up for speed skating.

"We kind of agreed that smaller centres may be the place to start in schools because ice time is more readily available," says Zilkowsky.

There's already interest in setting up a club in the St. John's area and in Stephenville, which has its own international size ice surface.

Zilkowsky hopes to host a meet, with clubs from outside the province competing, in the next two years. He figures that will help bolster growth locally.

"It has to be strong at the organizational level. If we can bring all those elements together, maybe in five years we'll start to see some serious growth."

koliver@thetelegram.com Twitter@telykenn

Organizations: Humber Valley Speed Skating Club, Department of Culture, Pepsi Centre

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Atlantic Canada, West Coast Newfoundland Sioux Lookout Pasadena Halifax St. John's Stephenville

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