Need for speed

(First published in the November 29, 2018 issue of City Pages)

The U.S. Junior Championship speed skating competition comes to Weston, bringing the next Olympic stars



U.S. Junior Short Track Championships comes to the Greenheck Field House Dec. 15–16. Pictured is last year’s championship held in Green Bay.

There’s nothing quite like watching competitive speed skating up close and personal. The surprisingly high speeds, tight corners, the sound of skates on ice, and the sheer intensity is why some call it NASCAR on ice.

You can see all this Dec. 15–16 when the US Junior Short Track Championships takes place at the Greenheck Field House in Weston. Hosted by the local Central Wisconsin Speed Skating Club (CWSSC), the event is a big deal in winter sports, as the best young skaters in the nation will blaze around the ice, says race organizer Dan Fiorenza of Rib Mountain. From this competition, the top four men and women skaters will go on to the Junior World competition in Canada this winter.

The US Junior Championship will feature up-and-coming racers, some destined to compete in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China, Fiorenza says. “Skaters will be coming from all over the country,” he says. “These are the best 19-year-olds and under right now.”

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll see at the Greenheck Field House: During each event, five to seven skaters toe the line. When the gun goes off, skaters use strategy, raw power and speed to finish in front of their competitors. “The referees watch to make sure skaters are competing fairly. Skaters will pass each other on the outside or inside on the track and at times penalties occur as do spills,” Fiorenza says. “The explosiveness is impressive and how they can lay in the corners at such an angle and not lose their balance. They just have to fight the G-force on the corners to keep their balance.”

Fiorenza says in short track racing, the blades on the skates measure 16.5 to 17.5 inches long and are exceptionally sharp. Racers at this level are required to wear suits with cut resistant fabric, helmets, and gloves with plastic tips.

Three short track race distances will be showcased at the event: 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters—from 4.5 to 13.5 laps around the ice. “It’s short, intense and fast. They can reach up to 30 miles per hour on the corners,” says Fiorenza.

CWSSC and the Greenheck Field House aren’t strangers to hosting national competitions. “In 2012 we had the US National Championships,” says Fiorenza, who also formerly served as the coach of the local club.

Hosting the Junior Nationals has taken more than a year of planning, says Fiorenza, but it’s worth the effort: High level events like this help inspire more recreational speed skaters onto the ice. It’s a great family sport, and a lifelong one, he says. Plus, “It’s a great workout for people to get in or stay in shape.”

Since its inception in 1992, CWSSC has produced many nationally ranked skaters from the area. Fiorenza’s son, Dan Jr., who after training for 12 years with CWSSC, went on to spend four years at the US Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Mich. He’s returning to Wausau as the chief referee for the Junior National competition.

After the main championship races, CWSSC will hold their open race event for any speed skater age five on up, and any ability.

The US Junior Short Track Championships at the Greenback Field House runs Dec. 15–16, with the majority of racing on Saturday 9 am–1 pm. Admission is free.

CWSSC has regular practice at the Greenheck Field House on most Sundays and various Wednesday evenings. Check their website for schedules.