USOEC suspends skating program

Hannah Fermanich

The United States Olympic Education Center speedskating program has run its last lap at NMU for the time being.

Upcoming changes to safety regulations for competitive speedskating have resulted in making the current arena, located in the Berry Events Center, unusable for future use in training Olympic speed skaters for the USOEC.

“Speedskating is moving towards a system that requires the arena to have a breakaway pad system,” said Cindy Paavola, director of communications and marketing.

Due to the increasing competition speeds of elite skaters, a new breakaway pad system will be required at competitive arenas for the safety of the athletes. The Berry Events Center is currently using a fixed board system for hockey, a system that would need to be completely replaced in order to accommodate a breakaway system.

“The way our ice arena was built, it would be enormously expensive to change our system to a breakaway pad system,” Paavola said.

The arena’s current layout also affects the ability to change to a breakaway system.

The Berry Events Center has its seating starting right behind the fixed boards, giving little room to work in a new system.

A change in the funding model on the national level for sports has also left very little money to implement a change this large to keep the training program at NMU, according to Paavola.

“USA Speedskating’s decision involved a number of points,” said Brian Gaudreau, interim director of the USOEC . “From a business standpoint, it’s always about getting the most out of their investment. From a strategic standpoint, it is related to availability of coaches, the number of training sites available nationwide, travel and so many more possible factors that the USOEC would not be involved with.”

According to Gaudreau, the USOEC is starting to work on major fundraising to help with the changes in federal funding for the program.

The NMU Foundation and NMU Communications and Marketing are working together with the USOEC on a plan for fundraising, but nothing has been finalized as of yet.

“The program is technically suspended, not cancelled,” Gaudreau said. “Work is being done in the next year to develop a program that allows skaters or former skaters to pursue a degree that could include a formal speedskating coaching program. This idea is only in the idea stage and work has just begun on it.”

According to Gaudreau, about 14 skaters were affected by the change.

While some of the skaters have chosen to remain at NMU to finish their education, others have moved on to other training sites to pursue their skating career.

Although the USOEC will be suspending the speedskating program, the weightlifting program will be staying at NMU. It is one of the USOEC’s newest programs and it is set to continue its residential training program.

According to a USOEC press release, USOEC weightlifter Sarah Robles placed seventh at the London Olympic Games in the 75+ weight class this last semester.

“The program is relatively young and has a lot of potential,” Paavola said.