Speed skaters hit high marks

By Jamie Harkins

March 23, 2017 12:00 AM

RACING AHEAD Emma Stephens set six personal best times in six races this past weekend at Canada Cup No. 4. PHOTO COURTESY ARNO HOOGVELD, OLYMPIC OVAL

Emma Stephens had an up and down speed skating season.
The 16-year-old skater for the Lloydminster Border Blades experienced a trying time at many competitions this past winter as she tried to adjust to a new way of approaching the sport. Stephens said the biggest lesson learned was that sometimes progress doesn’t show itself in terms of time on paper, but in how a skater feels about their race.
“My coaches in Calgary helped me come to the realization that in order to improve speed you couldn’t just improve power,” said Stephens. “It had to be technique first. So, it changes the whole way you skate and the whole way you attack a race. Sometimes you have to move back in order to move forward.”
Stephens achieved that goal at the Canada Cup No. 4 Olympic Oval Finale in Calgary this past weekend as a member of Alberta’s long track team when she set personal best times in all four of her events. The Grade 11 student at Holy Rosary Catholic School shaved 0.53 seconds off her previous 500-metre mark of 0:44.79 ticks, dropped her 1,000-m time down 0.85 seconds to 1:29.75, realized a 0.86 second best for a 2:19.18 mark in the 1,500-m race and notched a 6.98 improvement for a time of 4:55.69 in the 3,000-m heat.
“It was just more experience,” she said. “Every time you step onto the ice everything feels smoother, feels faster and feels stronger. Especially since our ice in Lloyd hasn’t been in for the past month, so it’s a big difference just being able to skate that extra bit out in Calgary.”
Border Blades skaters Shaye Holzinger, Rebekah Shurniak, Erica Pollard, Jayva Andersen and Keeley Lockhart also represented their province over the weekend in the Canada West Short Track Championships at Saskatoon’s SaskTel Centre. Andersen, 12, captured a bronze medal with the Alberta junior girls relay team at the event, while Holzinger, 15, helped the Alberta senior girls relay team win a silver medal.
The second-place finish is all the more impressive because Team Alberta had to race with three skaters instead of the usual four due to a last-minute injury. Holzinger said that meant each of the teammates had to skate two extra laps of clean racing to reach the podium.
“We just talked about (the race) before and we set a game plan,” said Holzinger. “We thought of all the variables of what could happen if we made a mistake or someone fell and what would we do and how would we fix that and how would we get back in and we just put our all into it.”
Andersen said their four-person relay team started off slow, advanced to the second position by the halfway point and fell back to the third spot by the end of the championship final. She said there are 32 people on the ice during a relay race making everything involved with the contest a difficult challenge, but they persevered and kept their pace to finish third overall.
“It felt good getting the bronze medal because it wasn’t just me getting it, it was my whole team,” said Andersen. “We did really good and I was really happy about it, but I am sad that we’re done this year and I only get to see all my friends from different places next year. It’s going to be a while.”
Stephens will face a new challenge in 2017-18 competing with the Team Alberta Amateur Speed Skating Association development team due to reaching provincial qualifying times this past winter. She said the plan is to train throughout the summer for the opportunity to continue progressing in the sport.
“There is not a whole lot that will be different,” said Stephens. “It’s just going to hopefully be more intense training. Being part of the Alberta development team is like having a whole new team, but once you go to the Oval it’s like a home away from home. Everybody welcomes you. You’re part of a team even though you’re from all across the province.”

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