Dave Morrison waxed poetic as he looked over the ice at the Setters Place in Red Deer.
One of Canada’s most dedicated and experienced coaches, Morrison couldn’t help but smile as he described the conditions that made the Canadian Youth Long Track Championships so special this time around.
“When we get a weekend like this, (Friday), was their training day. Bright sunshine, minus one and no wind. I mean, they’re going to say ‘I want to be a long track speed skater.’ That’s really what want we want to do,” said Morrison, who was appointed Manager, Coach, Athlete and Competition Development for Speed Skating Canada last summer.
“When we have racing outside in good conditions, it really speaks well for what the sport is all about. This is the root of it. This is the Canadian experience. Skate outside with your friends.”
With the sun still shining, the wind barely blowing Saturday and temperatures settling in around minus three for most the afternoon, it was nearly an idyllic day of racing.
And Morrison has seen one or two of those in his days as a coach.
He has over 33 years of speed skating experience, coaching at every level both nationally and internationally over the last three decades. He said one of the most unique aspects of the youth championships, which brought together 150 athletes from across Canada to Red Deer this weekend, is the youthful exuberance from the competitors between the ages of 11-15.
“Our youth championships, we see a different kind of energy and enthusiasm. It energizes you and it energizes our organizers and our hosts. Because the kids come in here with a way different energy than a national selection event,” said Morrison.
“You see them around, the energy level of our youth championship, you don’t see it anywhere else. My expectation is they have that enthusiasm and they have lots of fun and they make potentially life long connections with other athletes around the country.”
One such competitor was local skater Charlotte Murphy. It’s the first time at a national competition for Murphy, who skates for the Red Deer Central Lions Speed Skating Club. She qualified for this weekend after some strong racing at the Jeremey Wotherspoon Open in January, which was also on her home track.
Murphy said she was nervous to get her first taste of national experience but after shaking off the rust in her 300 metre heat, she placed third in the T2T 12 B Final.
“I didn’t do as well in my heat as I wanted to, but then in my final I felt pretty good. I started in the fourth position, but I finished third, so I moved up a position which made me happy,” she said.
Like a lot of the other young skaters in the field on the weekend, Murphy is still out for the pure joy if it. She remembers her early days on skates when her dad shaved off the toe pick on figure skates so she wouldn’t fall 24/7. She said now, she skates because of the fitness benefits and the friendships she’s made along the way.
“My friend did it and she recommended it. I just like hanging out with friends but I love feeling like I’m improving and I like it when I get a new accomplishment. It keeps me in shape because I don’t do a lot of other exercise,” Murphy said with a chuckle.
Red Deer’s James Wiggelsworth was the only other local skater among the competitors on the weekend.
Morrison also noted that it was imperative with the success of last year’s Canada Winter Games speed skating event, the SSC tried to coordinate another event in Red Deer to keep the momentum going. He believes down the line that the venue is fit to host Canada Cup races as well as other national championships.
“It’s really a combination of a beautiful building, the setting, where the oval is, the quality of the ice, the strength of the organizing committee. All those things combine (into) an easy decision to say this is somewhere we’d like to be again,” Morrison said.
“With the Canada Winter Games, we felt in order to capitalize on how well that event went, we needed to get back here the very next season, with something significant. My thought last year when I was here, is the Canada Winter Games athletes are going to go back to their homes are going to tell the people in their clubs what a wonderful experience they had and what a great place it was to race.”