Marquette is not a city that gets much nation-wide recognition, but next week it will be under the spotlight as the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating team trials come to the Berry Events Center.
The event, scheduled for Sept. 8-12, will feature some of the biggest names in short track speedskating, and will give Marquette and the U.S. Olympic Education Center an opportunity to showcase its athletic facilities and resident athletes.
Although hosting an Olympic trial competition is a significant occurrence, Marquette and its skating facilities have hosted several other high profile skating events in the past, including the 2005 Olympic trials.
Success at these events led the staff to put in another bid to host the 2009 Olympic trials.
Several factors contributed to Marquette’s selection for the event. According to USOEC Director Jeff Kleinschmidt, the first reason was that Marquette and Vancouver are at a very similar elevation. The other factor, however, had to do with what the Olympic committee expected from the city of Marquette itself.
“Marquette has a strong track record in hosting major competitions, including the last Olympic trials,” said Kleinschmidt. “The community of Marquette just really comes out and supports these competitions. When we fill the Berry Events Center and everyone is having a great time, it makes this a place that people want to come back to for future events.”
It is Kleinschmidt’s hope that this year’s event will be every bit as successful as those in the past, but many preparations must be made in order for that to happen. One of the most intensive is the conversion of the Berry Events Center from a hockey arena to a speedskating venue.
According to Kleinschmidt, dealing with the enormous list of logistical requirements is the hardest thing about organizing an event like the trials.
“There are so many things going on behind the scenes that people just don’t have any idea what’s involved in running events of this magnitude,” he said. “All the pieces have to come together to fit.”
Adding further pressure to the situation is the fact that any deficiencies or disturbances in the purity of the ice surface could have potentially disastrous consequences for the event itself and the competitors.
Spectators at the event will not only get to watch high-profile athletes like Apolo Anton Ohno, but also resident skaters from Marquette’s own U.S. Olympic Education Center.
“Ten out of the 12 (USOEC athletes) have prequalified,” said USOEC short track speedskating head coach Tricia Stennes. “There are 25 ladies and 30 men that have prequalified from the United States. Ten of them are from right here.”
Because the team usually travels for races, the trials will be some of the USOEC athletes’ first opportunity to compete in front of the community in which they have trained for so long.
“I almost think it’s difficult for people to understand the USOEC when our primary focus is training athletes,” said Kleinschmidt. “Imagine if NMU’s hockey team only trained in Marquette but they never competed here. When we get an opportunity to host a major event like this, I think it brings a lot of extra publicity.”
Stennes feels that home ice will have other benefits for the Marquette-based athletes.
“[They] don’t have to travel, they can stay in their apartments or dorms,” Stennes said. “It’s always nice to keep your routine as normal as possible. You can kind of stay in your own groove and you know where everything is.”
While some of the skaters are relatively new to international competition, Cherise Wilkins is not one of them. A senior at NMU this year, Wilkins competed in the Olympic trials for the 2006 Torino team and finished 10th overall. Wilkins hopes to use her experience to her advantage this year.
“It was a good competition four years ago,” Wilkins said, noting that she hopes to finish better this time around. “I think the biggest thing I learned four years ago is how to deal with so many people. I think I know how to deal with it a lot better this time around. (I’ll be able to) focus more on what you have to do and the task ahead.”
Wilkins said the biggest thing for her is to walk away knowing that she did her best.
“There’s not going to be any more Olympic trials for me,” Wilkins said. “I just hope to put it all out there. As long as I do that I’ll be happy.”
Regardless of the specific athlete spectators come to watch, Kleinschmidt hopes that Marquette will embrace this event.
“The only way that we will be able to compete with other larger cities for events like this in the future is if we fill the Berry Events Center,” he said.
Tickets will be available through EZ Ticket outlets up to and including the days of the events. Single event passes will cost $7 for students and children and $12 for adults.