The Canada Winter Games are now underway.
Some of the most exciting and popular events are the long and short track speed skating competitions, which are taking place at Setters Place in Great Chief Park and the Gary W. Harris Centre at Red Deer College.
Speed skating is one of Canada’s oldest organized winter sports.
In 1887, the Amateur Skating Association of Canada (now known as Speed Skating Canada) was established to organize official competitions. The A.S.A.C. joined the International Skating Union in 1894.
The earliest records of speed skating competitions in Red Deer date back to 1903 and the first Red Deer Ice Carnival. There were 1,500m and 3,000m races, both won by George Lindsay, a local realtor.
There was a lull in local speed skating after the collapse of the roof on the Red Deer ice rink in February 1907.
There was a revival of the sport in the 1920s and 1930s following the success of the Banff Winter Festival, the de-facto annual provincial winter sport championships.
In 1935, at the Banff Festival, Adelyne Stephenson won the silver medal in the 880-metre speed skating race.
She accomplished this immediately after winning the gold medal as a member of Red Deer’s Amazons women’s hockey team. Her teammate, Evelyn Bond, also won the silver medal in the 440 speed skating event, despite having a sprained ankle.
Speed skating virtually disappeared in Red Deer during the Second World War.
However, in 1951, the Red Deer Speed Skating Club was organized by Pat Underhill, with the assistance of the Red Deer Recreation and Athletic Association.
In 1953, the fledgling group received a major boost when it was given the sponsorship of the Red Deer Lions Club.
That same year, Red Deer hosted the Alberta Indoor Speed Skating championships in the newly-built Red Deer Arena on the south side of the downtown area.
By the mid-1950s, the Red Deer Central Lions Speed Skating Club had become a real powerhouse.
A big boost came when Bruno Comis, an avid sportsman, became the coach. He initiated a number of intensive and innovative training programs for the Club’s skaters.
In 1955, Eddie Bownes, aged nine, became the first local national champion. The following year, Anita Comis won the national midget championship.
In 1958, the local Club got another big boost when a new speed skating oval was constructed along the old CN right-of-way between 47th and 47th A Avenues.
In 1968, Marcia Parsons Beckner became the first Red Deer native to compete in the Olympics when she went to the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France as a member of the Canadian speed skating team.
In 1972, Canadian champion speed skater, Kevin Sirois, became the first local Winter and Summer Olympian when he competed as a speed skater at the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan and was named a member of the Canadian cycling team for the Munich Summer Olympics.
Tragically, he was struck and killed by a drunk driver while training along Hwy. 2 near Ponoka on Mother’s Day, 1972.
In the early 1980s, local speed skating hit another lull.
However, by the end of the decade, Red Deer again had a young, enthusiastic and highly accomplished team of skaters. In December 1988, Red Deer club members broke eight national and 14 provincial records at the Calgary Olympic Oval. In 1996, Red Deer hosted Short Track ’96, an event consisting of both the Canadian and North American Short Track Speed Skating Championships.
The records of the Red Deer speed skaters have continued.
Jeremy Wotherspoon has won more World Cup victories than any other athlete. He also won a silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics. Steven Elm was a world record holder in the 3,000m event and won a silver medal as part of the team pursuit event at the 2006 Winter Olympics at Turin, Italy.
There are a great many other first class athletes from Red Deer and Central Alberta who have made our community proud.