If the Madison Speed Skating Club was a nation, it would rank 22nd in the world for all-time Winter Olympic medal count, tied with Liechtenstein with nine well behind the likes of all-time winter medal leader Norway and Alpine-skiing powerhouse Austria, but one more than Poland has in its trophy case, two more than Croatia and three ahead of Estonia, Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Belarus.
Its members and alumni have competed at every Winter Olympics since 1972, when Connie Carpenter and Kay Lunda skated at the Sapporo Games. The list since then has grown to illustrious proportions: Beth and Eric Heiden, Dan Immerfall, Lori Monk, Peter Mueller, Mary and Sarah Docter, Dave Besteman, Casey FitzRandolph and Tucker Fredricks, who is in Vancouver this year for his second Olympics.
The medals so far among these Madison speed skaters: Seven golds -- including Eric Heiden's five and one each for Mueller and FitzRandolph -- and one bronze each for Immerfall and Beth Heiden.
This makes the Madison Speed Skating Club the obvious starting point for your own pursuit of Olympic speed skating glory. Its "Learn-to-Speedskate" program introduces the sport to beginners of all ages, at $115 for eight weeks.
Club secretary and "den mother" Jenina Mella says newcomers can enroll any time and progress according to their age, aptitude and temperament. New skaters may attend their first three sessions free of charge. All you have to do is show up 30 minutes early and fill out a waiver (though it's good form to post a note on the club's forum to let club officials know you plan to attend, and whether you'll need to borrow a pair of skates).
The club's Madison sessions are conducted on a 111-meter short track marked on a hockey rink. This is the version of the sport that has made Apolo Anton Ohno a star. Helmets, long sleeves, long pants and gloves are thus mandatory. Additional protective gear -- including knee and elbow pads, shin and wrist guards and neck, ankle and eye protection -- may also be recommended.
Sessions continue twice a week through Feb. 10 at the Oregon Community Sports Arena, with warm-ups at 7:10 p.m. Mondays and 6 p.m. Wednesdays. From Feb. 15-March 10, sessions shift to Stoughton's Mandt Park Ice Arena. Some outdoor sessions may be convened on the rinks at Tenney or Vilas parks as weather conditions permit.
Club members also make a practice of car-pooling 60-odd Interstate miles east to West Allis, where the Pettit National Ice Center's 400-meter long track presents some of the best-groomed and most glorious ice your skate blades will ever touch.
For new skaters who decide to pursue speed skating beyond the introductory stage, first-year membership dues are $250. This includes club dues, coaching and ice fees and, if available, skate and skinsuit rental.
Though the club does not offer pro-rated membership rates, it does provide the option of drop-in rates for skaters attending individual sessions, at $15 for members of any speed skating club or $25 for "unattached" skaters.
And should you prove to be the next Heiden, Docter, FitzRandolph or Fredricks, the club offers some mighty enticing perks. Among them: Madison skaters who qualify for the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team enjoy free club membership for life.
The club's inline skating season ensues in the spring.