Across the finish line on his ninth lap of the 50-km speedskating marathon, Rick Dijkstra of Innisfail doesn’t look worse for wear, gliding along the near perfect Sylvan Lake ice on Thursday.
Dijkstra, however, is being closely trailed by another lead skater, Henrik Helmig, who helped prepare the ice for hours just that morning.
But on his 10th lap, Dijkstra puts some space between himself and Helmig and ends up coming in first place.
“That was awesome,” he said, breathlessly. “I was fortunate being in the lead group, really nice weather, conditions were just perfect.”
In its ninth year, the North American Marathon Speed Skating Championship, hosted by the Foothills Speed Skating Marathon Association, kicked off in Sylvan Lake on Thursday. The event will be underway until Saturday afternoon.
On Thursday, participants, both men and women, skated 10 laps around the five-km race course to test out their abilities and the ice conditions for the 2012 championship on Friday and Saturday.
On Friday, participants will race 25 km, beginning at 1 p.m. On Saturday, the long haul of 100 km will start at 9 a.m.
Despite the balmy weather conditions in Central Alberta, Mike Messing, association chair, says that the ice is in good shape.
“We started preparing the ice two weeks ago and flooded it three times and went over it with hot water and filled in all the cracks,” he said on Thursday.
This year’s marathon has attracted competitors from across the country, plus one from Holland and many from the Central Alberta region.
“We don’t expect to get 200 people with these races. The amount of people who really like the long distance speedskating are limited but we are hoping that every year we get more people,” Messing said.
In late December, speedskaters with the association begin getting in shape, practising every Monday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Red Deer speedskating oval.
Skates can be rented at the Golden Circle.
Messing says that speedskates are available to rent for those who are thinking about getting involved with the sport.
“People don’t have to invest right away in fancy expensive speedskates,” he said. “We actually brought 10 pairs of modern new speedskates from the Netherlands and they are there for people to use.”
For more information, Messing can be contacted at 403-357-4548.
Dawn Detarando, association board member and volunteer, who is also a recreational speedskater, said she and her husband, Brian McArthur, “fell in love” with the sport. She also said that there is more to speedskating than what meets the eye.
“The main group will try to drop part of the group because they want less competition so they play a game with each other and they will slow down and start really fast,” Detarando explained.
On Saturday at 1 p.m., the five-km race course is open to the public. People of all abilities with any kind of skate are welcome on the Sylvan Lake course in front of Lakeshore Drive.