Sheffield host Masters International Short Track Games

Sheffield host Masters International Short Track Games

Two weeks ago Sheffield hosted the Masters International Short Track Games. The fact that speed skating is not the most recognisable sport, it is likely the championships passed with the sound of a faint whisper.

Apolo Ohno said speed skating is like doing one-legged squats over and over again, with that one leg absorbing more than 80% of your weight. It takes an enormous amount of strength, and you’re in such a weird position.

Who, you ask? Ohno’s an American eight-time Winter Olympic medalist, who also won medals at seven consecutive World Championships. In athletics, swimming or cycling tales of his success story would have travelled far and wide, but speed skating is not one of Britain’s most well-known sports.

Perhaps this is the watershed moment, given it was the first time the country held the World Masters event, taking over the baton from the USA and Canada. Just under 100 competitors from 14 countries travelled to Ice Sheffield to take part in distances ranging from 500m to 1500m.

Every skater lines up in the ring, each dressed to the brim in their infamous cut resistant material, looking to gain a quick start. Lurching forward, they skid across the ice attempting to find the slipstream on every corner.

Speed skating is unique. As the countdown clock ticks down, all the skaters on the ice actually gain speed, like astronauts training for high g-force on a centrifuge.

It became an Olympic sport at the inaugural Winter Games of Chamonix in 1924 and has featured ever since, with popularity in the UK rising.

So it wasn’t a great surprise to see a myriad of British success in Sheffield, with Britons finishing in the top six of every overall classification for both men and women, winning two of them.

But there is a problem. Although Sheffield’s facilities did provide a sanctuary for British hopefuls looking for success for two days, there is no permanent 400m ice rink available in the country.

The sport receives £4.3m of lottery funding, far less than others which have brought Britain a majority of medals in previous Olympic games.

There is a positive correlation between countries’ level of infrastructure and success on the ice. The Dutch perhaps unsurprisingly lead the way with 105 medals, and their seven stadia will have certainly helped along the way. China, Russia and South Korea show a similar trend.

Although the UK has no permanent Skeleton track, Amy Williams did win a gold medal in Vancouver in 2010. Training abroad helped her break the course record, and the National Ice Skating Association have certainly taken note.

So this year GB Short Track launched a scheme to attract young skaters to the sport in an attempt to find somebody who could win a medal in Pyeongchang next year or Beijing in 2022.

Their motto is ‘The Winning Edge’ and with a recent rise in popularity, added to Sheffield hosting a global tournament, it may be one that holds truth in the future.

 

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