A ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to watch Olympians

Japan’s Olympic short track speed skating team hit the ice at ARC for the first time on Tuesday. They’re in Abbotsford for an eight-day pre-Olympic training camp.

High on velocity, but low on volume.

That was the scene at Abbotsford Recreation Centre on Tuesday afternoon, when Japan’s short track speed skating team hit the ice to begin an eight-day pre-Olympic training camp.

As the Japanese Olympians – five women, two men – cruised counter-clockwise around the ARC ice surface, the most distinctive impression was the lack of noise generated by their sleek, efficient strides. The volume of blades on ice never rose above a whisper, and the quiet in the rink was broken only by occasional words of exhortation from the Japanese coaching staff.

“I could watch this all day,” marveled Bette Roberts, head coach of the local Matsqui Blades speed skating club, taking in the practice from rinkside on Tuesday.

Satomi Knudsen points out Japanese speed skaters to 5 year-old daughter Akari, during their first training session at ARC. Knudsen along with her 3 kids were among the spectators. Knudsen moved to Abbotsford 15 years ago from Japan. “The kids just started skating a couple weeks ago and it’s a good oppourtunity to see it. It’s a once in a lifetime oppourtunity,” she said.<BR

John Van Putten Photo

“These guys have put in thousands of laps just to get a tenth of a second off their PB (personal best). They make it look so easy.”

Roberts believes that the Japanese team’s time in Abbotsford will have a major impact on the sport locally.

“A lot of our younger kids haven’t been exposed to high-level speed skating,” Roberts said. “They hear us talking about it, but to actually watch it, to me, is the best training they can get. When they get back out on the ice, they’ll try to copy what these guys are doing.”

Tuesday’s practice drew a scattering of spectators to ARC, and the Japanese team’s presence was particularly exciting for local residents of Japanese descent. Satomi Knudsen, who moved from Japan to Abbotsford 15 years ago, brought her three children to watch Wednesday’s practice.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Knudsen said. “The kids just started skating a couple weeks ago and it’s a good opportunity to see it.”

The Japanese speed skating team is training at ARC until next Wednesday (Feb. 3), and their twice-daily practices are open to the public. A schedule is available at www.tourismabbotsford.com. The team is also participating in a public meet-and-greet event at The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

ARC will also play host to the Russian figure skating team, which arrives Monday and practises in Abbotsford until Feb. 17.

Allison Longshore of Tourism Abbotsford said she’s been overwhelmed by the public response to the Olympic training camps. The local tourism body was seeking to fill 55 volunteer positions in conjunction with the camps, and Longshore said more than 600 people expressed interest via email.

“The support from the community has been just tremendous,” she said. “It’s quite exciting to see this all come together.”

– with files from John Van Putten