With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been difficult for Canada’s top speed skaters to find a place to practice, including Gilmore Junio.
ABOUT GILMORE JUNIO
Olympian Junio got into sports at the age of seven by playing hockey, but soon discovered that what he was really good at was skating. His dad took him to camp at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta and the rest is Olympic history.
Junio won his first World Cup medal in Nagano in 2012, taking silver in the 500m.
Junio showed the world what a true sport at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when he gave up his spot in the 1000m to make way for his teammate who went on to win silver for Canada.
Through the 2017 season, Junio took home seven World Cup medals in the 500m, including two gold medals.
PREPARING FOR THE 2022 OLYMPICS
Team Canada usually practices at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta. A malfunction on September 5 left the long-track speed skating team without a place to practice. The facility expects that it will be ready to host the speed skaters by January 2021.
Junio and his teammates have been on the lookout for other places to practice, including indoor facilities in Calgary and Fort St. John.
Recently, they’ve taken to practicing on wild ice, lakes that have frozen over, where the speed skaters can really let loose.
Their practice sessions at Gap Lake and Ghost Lake have drawn the attention of the public, who were amazed at the speed skaters in full gear on the ice.
“We’re all wearing our track suits … and we will get some looks, like, ‘Who are those guys?'” Junio told the Calgary Eyeopener. “And then, we bring out the speed skates.”
Members of the public come to watch Junio and his teammates practice their routines, with some younger skaters coming out to join them.
“We’ll get a couple of kids that want to try to skate as fast as we do or get involved and, you know, take part in a little bit of our practice. And that’s been really neat,” Junio shared with the Calgary Eyeopener. “People have been really receptive to it, and I think it’s been a really cool thing to see on the lake.”
While skating on wild ice is different from indoor ovals, Junio says that they still have to be ready for upcoming competitions, including the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“As a long-track speed skater trying to prepare for competitions, [no ice] is a bit of a problem,” Junio said in an interview with the CBC “We’ve been kind of making do with different modes of training, but with the potential competition returning in 2021 and — big picture — preparing for the Olympics for 2022, we felt that we needed to try to get on some ice.”
WILD ICE AND BREATHTAKING VIEWS
Practicing on wild ice has its challenges. At Gap Lake, the surrounding mountains block out the sun, making mornings particularly chilly. There’s also wind and imperfections on the lake surface to consider.
Junio doesn’t mind though, and thinks that the mountains make for a nice view.
“It was a great view, and something that we’re definitely not used to,” Junio told the CBC. “Being outside, and getting on a lake, and having the mountains … it definitely makes it a bit better.”
Team Canada coaches accompany Junio and his teammates whenever they practice on wild ice, and bring specialized equipment to measure the thickness of the ice. The last thing they want is to fall through the ice.
“We definitely had the idea of, like, in the cartoons, when it’s a perfect circle and we all fall through the ice,” Junio told the CBC right before heading out for another practice session.
“We’re definitely wary of just some of the conditions when it gets a little warmer. Just this morning, we’re heading out to Ghost Lake for another skate today, and yeah, we’ll definitely be cognizant of the ice conditions, as it was pretty warm all through the weekend.”
“We’re loving getting out there and … just having some ice to skate on,” Gilmore Junio told the CBC.
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