Notes from Will Dutton, Provincial Coach
For the first time in two years, Team Manitoba headed off to Calgary for the Canadian Long Track Championships on March 11 – 13. The junior selection portion of the competition was held Friday and Saturday with the intent to nominate a Canadian Junior long track team and provide these young but highly competitive athletes with the opportunity to shine under pressure.
Athletes competed for the opportunity to be nominated for one out of the four Canadian Junior team spots up for grabs on both the Female and Male sides of the competition. The team is selected using a combined points system unique to speed skating known as the samalog. Athletes compete in 4 distances, the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, and the 3000m for female competitors and 5000m distance for males.
The Manitoba speed skating team had thirteen athletes compete at this event, and every single athlete achieved a personal record in one distance or another. Competing at the Junior Canadian Championships comes with a certain heightened stress level that fills the air. Athletes learn to perform under pressure, create goals, and overcome adversity. Our athletes always show up with a certain level of professionalism, and I hear time after time from other coaches that they wish they had such a dedicated group of athletes. After every personal best, there was a back straight away high five. Some were softly timed, and some nearly ripped my arm off! With all of these personal bests, it will surprise no one to hear that eight placed amongst the top twenty in their respective category out of thirteen athletes. It was an incredible weekend for the team. Massive congratulations to all of you!
This weekend, the highlight of the competition was Manitoba’s very own Sofia Bieber (WCSSC) placing second overall, which earned her a nomination to the Canadian Junior team for the first time in her speed skating career!
Congratulations to Sofia and all of the other members of our team and supporting staff members. In the end, Sofia finished just 0.05 seconds ahead of the third-place finisher. It was a true nail-biter right to the very end! Sofia has risen in the ranks of the Canadian sprinters and is the number one ranked 500m junior skater in Canada. Sofia understood that coming into the competition, and she knew she would have to bank some time on her competitors in the 500m event. After terrific performances in her first three distances, all that remained was the 3000m. The 3000m is the longest event and is often daunting for a sprint-oriented competitor.
Sofia knew she would have to skate a personal record to maintain her position on the podium. The stage was set, the nerves were high, and before Sofia stepped to the line, she said with a giddy smile and a chuckle, “I’ve never been this nervous before.” Well, Sofia, you handled the pressure well, skated a personal best 3000m race, and secured your place on the Canadian Junior team. Bravo!
The success of Sofia was celebrated with teammates, including Skylar Van Horne (WCSSC), who placed 5th overall, just missing out on qualifying herself a spot on the Canadian Junior team. Although I’m sure Skylar was disappointed, she supported her friend and teammate in victory. That’s something that I believe is a unique trait that Manitobans share. I’ve rarely been a part of a group that competes so fiercely and remains so supportive of each other’s achievements. The Manitoba Speed skating program has a particular way of developing community and friendship within a competitive sports environment. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and similarly, it takes a community to develop talented young athletes. Without the support of the community, none of this would have been possible.