In Speed Skating the athletes were lucky enough to finish the 2019/20 season at the exhilarating ISU World Cup Speed Skating Final in Heerenveen in March, before the entire sporting world came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their Short Track Speed Skating colleagues were less fortunate, as the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2020 in Seoul had to be cancelled.
Not being able to compete, doesn’t stop top athletes from working on their skills and condition. Training continued, but just in a different way and the “Keep Training!” series for Speed Skating and Short Track Speed Skating launched by the ISU in collaboration with the ISU Centers of Excellence in April turned out to be a huge success. Some of the best coaches, champions and specialists in sports psychology and mental performance provided free online training for athletes and coaches to prepare. Thousands of viewers followed the live training sessions.
The ISU Centers of Execellence presented both practical online training classes of Dryland & Strength, Flexibility & Tai Chi Movements and a theoretical webinar about Goal Setting which is fundamental for everybody in the community.
Salt Lake City
US National Speed Skating & Short Track Speed Skating Head Coach Wilma Boomstra and three-time Olympian and US Speed Skating coach Mitch Whitmore led out the series of dryland training classes from the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City. They were digitally joined by a list of international top athletes such as Short Track Speed Skating Olympians Aaron Tran, Maame Biney, Ryan Pivirotto (USA), Tifany Huot-Marchand (FRA) and Anna Seidel (GER), and five-time Olympic Speed Skating champion Bonnie Blair.
Boomstra and Whitmore showed a lot of dryland exercises that can be done anyplace. “A warm-up routine, eight minutes of core and then a dryland routine”, Whitmore explained. “All these exercises can be done in one place, in a garage, whatever. No need to go outside.”
From Salt Lake City the dryland series moved on to the ISU Center of Excellence at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, for both mental and physical instruction.
As Mental Performance Consultant at the Canadian Sport Institute and the Calgary Olympic Oval Alayne Hing works with athletes and coaches in a wide range of sport from grassroots to high performance level every day. She provided a webinar on goal setting for coaches and athletes, in which she paid special attention to the mental difficulties during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Hing has some invaluable pieces of advice. “Process matters now more than ever. A top-level athlete recently told me that he had never been so far away from knowing when his next competition is. There are so many unknowns right now.” This uncertainty makes it inevitable to talk about mental skills out of context.
Without the context of competition, goal setting becomes difficult, but it’s an excellent chance to go back to the basics too, self-validation and motivation to go forward. Hing says: “Sometimes we forget about the basics because we’ve advanced so far past them.”
Going back to the basics is exactly what Canada’s national team coaches Mark Wild and Remmelt Eldering did at the start of their physical dryland training with the national Speed Skating team.
Jordan Belchos, Mass Start silver medalist at the 2020 ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships, provided an online tutorial to build your own slide board, including the necessary tools, materials and measures. Most important advice is the use of polishing spray (Pledge) to make the board slippery. Wool socks make for the best footwear on the board.
After Belchos had shown his carpenter skills, two-time Olympian Gilmore Junio led a warm-up, which was followed by slide-board and general strength exercises, guided by Wild and Eldering. The Canadian national team concluded their work-out with a brief yoga session, before handing over the honor to Heerenveen, the Netherlands.
Head coach of the ISU Center of Excellence at Thialf and Speed Skating Olympian Simon Kuipers directed an online training with dryland skating imitations, together with his colleague Manon Spruit. Their most important advice with skating imitation exercises: “Stay low, stay in control and move slowly.”
Coordination is important in skating and flexibility is key, according to Bai Xue from the ISU Center Beijing center of excellence. “Less flexibility will lead to uncoordinated technical movements, and a limited range of joint movement”, she said in her training session, which was combined with a Taichi session by World Taijiquan Champion Ran Qianxin. The slow martial arts form requires “complete harmony of motion and breath, concentration, and coordination of the entire body and mind”, she explained. Therefore, it’s an excellent tool for skaters to improve their coordination and flexibility.