In January, when I attended a Madison Capitols game at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the most memorable skating of the evening occurred between the first and second periods. That's when Verona native and 2002 Winter Olympics 500-meter speed skating gold medalist Casey FitzRandolph put on a demonstration that left me wanting more.
I'm in luck, and so is anyone else who appreciates the elegant yet arduous sport that has been a Wisconsin tradition for decades. The Verona Ice Arena will host US Speedskating's Short Track Age Class Nationals and American Cup Final March 12-15.
Age Class Nationals is the grassroots national championship for skaters from 7 years old to over 70, and more than 300 skaters (including some from Wisconsin) are expected to participate on Verona's Olympic-size ice sheet.
The American Cup Final is designated for the top men and women in a race series, which includes three competitions. These athletes compete in the high-performance category (a separate division of competition within the Age Class Nationals) and could eventually achieve the same kind of international success as FitzRandolph and other Wisconsin speed skaters such as Eric and Beth Heiden, Dan Jansen and Chris Witty.
"We have a long history of speed skating," says Jamie Patrick, vice president of the Madison Area Sports Commission, who reminded me that the Madison Speed Skating Club has sent somebody to the Olympics every year since 1972, including FitzRandolph three times.
In fact, club president and head coach Tom Riley, along with youth coach Bob Neville, helped the commission secure the bid with US Speedskating to host the upcoming championships.
Factor in Milwaukee's Pettit National Ice Center, established almost 25 years ago as an official U.S. Olympic training site, and Wisconsin has more speed skating cachet than most states.
The Age Class Nationals and American Cup Final will be the first major speed skating event that Madison has hosted for a long time, and it's free (the arena is at 451 E. Verona Ave. in Verona.)
Patrick says he hopes the competition returns to the city every year. "Any time you bring an event to town with a national flavor, it reenergizes the sport," he adds. "Short track speed skating is like NASCAR on ice. You never know when somebody's going to wipe out."
Or go on to become an Olympic champion.