MARQUETTE - The United States Olympic Education Center announced this morning that U.S. Speedskating has suspended its short track program at Northern Michigan University for the upcoming year.
USOEC interim director Brian Gaudreau said the suspension of the short track speedskating program is a result of changes in facility equipment that is required for elite skaters, as well as significant changes to the funding model for national governing bodies, U.S. Olympic training centers and state and federal support for Olympic development training.
Both long and short track speedskating were on Northern's campus prior to the USOEC becoming an official Olympic Training Center in 1985 with long track being discontinued in 1987.
Kira Fling leads Kim Derrick, center, and Maria Garcia during the women's 500-meter finals at the U.S. Short Track Speed Skating Olympic Trials in 2005 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. Northern Michigan University and the U.S. Olympic Education Center announced Tuesday the short track speedskating program has been suspended for the upcoming year due to changes in facility requirements and a lack of funding for the program. (Journal file photo)
Last year's USOEC short track team had 13 members and since the USOEC opened, 38 Olympians have trained with the program.
"Obviously we're disappointed about the speedskating decision, but remain hopeful that a new type of program will be developed in the future," Gaudreau said in a release issued this morning.
The short track speedskating program is based out of the Berry Events Center, which is also home to the Wildcat hockey and basketball programs. According to NMU Director of Communications and Marketing Cindy Paavola, the issue with the BEC is the permanent boards in place for hockey and the pads that are put in place to protect skaters during training. That setup is no longer considered safe for elite skaters and the speeds they travel, she said.
The current configuration of the BEC will also prevent it from hosting major speedskating events or in the future unless the facility undergoes an expensive renovation project to make the boards removeable, Paavola said.
Gaudreau echoed Paavola's assessment, saying renovations of the BEC or the construction of a speedskating-specific facility would be impractical.
The USOEC has hosted four major short track speedskating events in the past, including two ISU World Cups in 2003 and 2009, as well as the U.S. Short Track Olympic Team Trials for the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Games.
"The facility piece hinges on the introduction of the breakaway pad system that is becoming the gold standard in speedskating internationally," Gaudreau said. "Greater speeds and athlete safety are the main reasons behind the pad system movement." Gaudreau said NMU and the USOEC are looking at bringing a training program for coaches to Marquette, however, it is unlikely a competitive team would ever be fielded again due to the new facility requirements.
The USOEC also announced Tuesday the continuation of the weightlifting program after finalizing its contract with USA Weightlifting.
Weightlifting has been a sport at the USOEC since 2003 and recently hired Vance Newgard is its new head coach. He currently has 14 men and seven women training at NMU.
"We're very excited to have weightlifting join Greco-Roman wrestling in remaining at the USOEC," Gaudreau said. "Weightlifting is one of the USOEC's newer programs. We believe it's a program with an amazing amount of potential for even greater success at the national and international level."
Former USOEC weightlifter Sarah Robles competed at the recent London Olympic Games, finishing seventh overall in the 75-plus kilogram weight class division.
Athletes like Robles are one of the reasons Arthur Drechsler, the chair of the USA Weightlifting Board of Directors, is happy to see the program remain in Marquette.
"USA Weightlifting is delighted to be continuing its relationship with Northern Michigan University," Drechsler said. "Many of our top athletes have come out of the NMU program and we expect that with this renewed commitment the wonderful record of this program will grow stronger still."