Skating on Wheels

With the XVI Pan American Games coming up this October, a unique group of teams will represent Canada in Guadalajara, Mexico. All summer long, we profile the nine sports in which Canada competes only at the Pan American Games.

The next time speed skating and figure skating are held at a multi-sport event, it won’t involve sharp blades on a sheet of ice.

When the Pan American Games open in Guadalajara this October, Team Canada will be skating on wheels instead, as part of the Roller Sports competition program. It’s the highest level the sport will be contested – unlike its winter cousin, which has been part of the Olympic Winter Games for a number of years – but that doesn’t mean there are vast differences.

“We have men’s free skating and ladies free skating at the Pan Am Games and they are very similar to what you would see on the ice,” said Maxine McKenzie, Technical Director at Roller Sports Canada. “Both the men and the ladies do a short program, from which they are seeded and then go on to skate the long program. (The speed races) certainly are also a very similar sport, so much so, that the ice athletes will often cross-train on inline skates to get some fresh air outdoors in the summer.”

Such a crossover is not typically common among winter and summer sports, allowing Roller Sports Canada to benefit from seeing some of the best ice speed skaters train with them. The most notable occurrence took place back in 1999, when six-time Olympic speed skating medallist Cindy Klassen prepared for the winter season by skating for Canada at the Winnipeg 1999 Pan Am Games. It was following that opportunity that her career took off, joining the national team in 1999 before winning a record-tying number of Olympic medals by a Canadian between Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin 2006.

While the majority of ice skaters do not usually compete on wheels, as Klassen did, Roller Sports Canada appreciates the time put in by the athletes, even if it is limited.

“It certainly brings more of a profile to our sport, said McKenzie. “The unfortunate part is that usually the cross-training that’s done is temporary, because usually (our competitions) take place right when the ice speed skaters are back in their competitive season or their training season as well.”

This time around, Canada’s team will feature three women and potentially one man. The women’s side features Morgane Echardour (Mississauga, Ont.) and Martine Charbonneau (Greenfield Park, Que.) in the speed events, as well as young-gun Kailah Macri (Whitby, Ont.) in the artistic event. Charbonneau has represented Canada in International competition since 2005 while Echardour made her first world appearance in 2007. Macri, meanwhile, missed this year’s Worlds to recover from an injury, but will be ready to go in Mexico. As for the men, Roller Sports Canada is waiting to find out if it will be granted the extra skater, who would take part in the speed competition.

The number of speed events in Guadalajara will be dramatically different from the World Championship, as a reduced program has been scheduled. Only three races will take place: the 300-metre time-trial, the 1,000-metre sprint and a long distance event, the 10,000-metre points and elimination race. The setup gives sprint skaters two races and distance skaters one, with only nine medals up for grabs, a far cry from what the athletes are accustomed to.

“There are usually three races in sprint and three races in distance and each is awarded a medal,” explained McKenzie. “(But) at the Pan Am Games since 1999, they combined the sprint distances. For example, in Winnipeg, we had three sprint distances and only one medal was awarded. And then again, three distance races, and only one medal. We understand the medal count that organizing committees have to be cognizant of. It’s just that that it’s a little different this time in that (now) there’s only a total of three races.”

The artistic event, on the other hand, will be fairly similar in scoring and medal distribution to its winter counterpart. The short program will be worth 25 per cent of the total score, and the long program 75 per cent. The final scores will then be calculated to determine the podium.

Based on their qualification ranking to the Pan Am Games in speed, Canada will be hard-pressed to earn a medal. They advanced to the Games in the bottom two-thirds of the pack, approximately around the same position McKenzie feels her team will finish in Guadalajara. Instead, the nation’s stronger hopes lie with Macri, who is expected to have an exciting figure skating performance. After returning from injury, Macri can only build on her previous experience.

“In the women’s artistic, we are hoping for a medal placement,” said McKenzie. “(Macri) has done very well against South American skaters in the past.”