Before the Esquimalt Speedskating Club’s top-level athletes begin on-ice workouts at the Archie Browning Sports Centre, they get to have some fun with younger skaters.
In what seems to be skating’s version of dodgeball, those gathered around the edges of the rink toss round lane markers toward the youngsters, who skate from one end to the other trying to avoid the rubber missiles.
Finn Fairbairn of Victoria and Colin Matthews of Esquimalt, age 15 and 14, respectively, are among the skaters doing the tossing on this day. As young “veterans” with the club, they remember their early days learning the ropes of this challenging sport, both having started when they were eight.
Next weekend (Feb. 22 to 25) their clubmates will be monitoring their progress as the boys will be in Kamloops representing Zone 6-Vancouver Island/Central Coast in under-16 events at the B.C. Winter Games.
It’s the second time around for Matthews, who got his first taste of this Olympic-style event in Penticton in 2016. He recalls the jump from the regional “mini-meets” on the Island to the Winter Games being a “big step” for him at the time, especially since he was slightly younger than many in the under-14 category.
“BC Games was like a whole new level for me, and this year I’m excited for it again,” he says. Competing against older skaters, and in a longer meet, was a real test, he recalls. “Two days of skating required a lot of sleep. Getting to bed early and waking up and doing the same thing again was a big change for me.”
While his results were middle of the pack, he believes he improved a lot from the experience and has seen significant improvement in his times since then.
All skaters at the Winter Games must race in all events, including two separate 500-metre races; 1,500- and 3,000-metre distances, and for the top eight skaters based on cumulative points, the Super 1,000 metres semis and finals.
Fairbairn, who will also skate in his second provincial championships this season, looks forward to his first crack at this type of competition. He’s not so worried about medalling, but would like to qualify for finals in at least one event.
“One of my goals is to break 50 seconds in the 500 metres,” he said, noting that he has lowered his best time down to around 51 seconds this season. Going faster and getting his adrenaline pumping is part of what makes the sport fun for him, he adds.
Esquimalt coach Ian Scott, who has overseen the boys’ development at the club over the years, is attending the Games as a member of the coaching staff and anticipates the skaters will have a positive experience.
“It’ll be fun to see them out there in their biggest competition yet and see how they do,” he said. “For short track speedskating at that level, it’s the biggest competition that they have.”
You can find Winter Games results daily at bcgames.org and watch for more Games stories at vicnews.com.