That's the ice in the background at the Richmond Olympic Oval. The skaters are already busy on that, getting further acclimated to its unique qualities for the Games next February and working on their getting into their skating rhythms for the big show.
My apologies for disappearing on the eve of the Festival of Excellence last week. Through a scheduling snafu -- totally self inflicted -- I found myself in Richmond, B.C., starting Thursday morning for the start of a two-week western swing to meet up with Canadian athletes getting ready for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Hooking up with the long track speed skaters is our first stop, this being the last time to catch the entire team at the Richmond Olympic Oval at the same time before the Games.
This is one busy collection of athletes. If they aren't on the ice, they're in one of several weight rooms in the cavernous and scenic Oval pumping iron and being put through agility exercises under the watchful eyes of one of their trainers.
They do a fair bit of cross training. They think nothing of a four or five-hour bike ride before or after an on-ice session. They can sometimes be found at the local Minoru track doing some sprinting ... and there's always a bit of badminton.
Badminton was introduced to the team as a training option by Finn Halvorsen, the program director who lost his job last March because his harsh management style was causing major friction on the team.
Coach Michael Crowe said there was a study in Scandinavia that showed that good speed skaters had a lot of the same qualities as good badminton players. It was concluded one of the main factors was the lunging involved in badminton was similar to the speed skating motion.
“Finn told me about this study where they took athletes from different sports and made a few general tests – a push-up test, a sit-up test, a chin-up test, a squat test,” said Wotherspoon. “He said most of the sports were all about the same across the board, but when he said when they got to badminton they had to tell them ‘You can stop now’ because they could have just gone forever.”
Wotherspoon’s not quite at that point yet. His recovery from a broken left arm that knocked him out in the second race of the season is going well, but he still has some weakness compared to his right and some pain in and above the elbow. It makes it hard for him on the first couple of reps during the bench press.
“But for some reason after a couple of reps, it either loosens up or just gets used to that pain,” he said. “I think the more I’ve done it, the more it’s backed off little by little. On ice, I don’t really feel anything with it. It doesn’t seem to be hurt.”
Cindy Klassen, winner of five medals at the 2006 Turin Olympics, is being brought back to full speed gradually after surgery on both knees kept her out all last season. It should not be underestimated what she's going to have to overcome to become a serious contender again.
This is definitely a group worth watching.