Red Deer Speed Skating Club coach Shawna Pearman was one of a few club members to take the inaugural loop of the new oval at Setters Place at Great Chief Park earlier this month. The new oval will be the site of the Jeremy Wotherspoon Open this weekend. (Red Deer Speed Skating Club Facebook photo)

Top Alberta long track skaters set to test Setters Place oval this weekend

The long-awaited debut of the long track speed skating oval at Setters Place has arrived.

More than 110 skaters will be on hand this weekend at Great Chief Park for the first official race since it was completed last winter.

Saturday and Sunday, starting at 9 a.m., speed skaters from across the province, some as young as six years old, will compete in the first annual Jeremy Wotherspoon Open.

After complications with the ice last year and early in 2019, the Red Deer Speed Skating Club wasn’t able to host a race on the new oval.

“We’re very excited, without a doubt. Last year we didn’t have a long track oval, with complications producing ice at the venue. The fact we’re able to get out on the ice this year, waiting extra-long, feels really good,” said Red Deer Speed Skating Club coach Nicholas Schultz.

While the local club took their inaugural skate on the new track in mid-December, they’re looking forward to hosting some of the top skaters in the province on the weekend, including several who will represent Alberta at the Canada Winter Games in February.

“I would anticipate that a couple of athletes in the higher levels that could be future Olympians,” Schultz said.

“With those top athletes, the speed they are skating– a lot of people don’t really know how fast they are going. Some skaters will be in the 50 kilometre per hour speed, for the shorter distance.”

Wotherspoon, whose name is attached to the event, grew up in Red Deer. He is one of the most decorated speed skaters in Canadian history, with 19 world championship medals and one Olympic silver.

The 42-year-old, who now lives in Norway and is a long-time friend of Schultz, won’t be able to attend the meet. Schultz still said there’s plenty of reasons for local speed skating fans to come check out the races on the weekend.

“I always try and mention this to people, imagine driving your car around the oval, even if it was dry. Even on a dry track of that size, at those speeds, imagine how that would feel,” Schultz said.

The oval at Settlers Place will be the site for the long track speed skating for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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