On February 25, 2012, town crier Chris Wyman launched the opening ceremony, welcoming young skaters from across the province to Kingston for the annual Ontario Speed Skating Short Track Provincial Championships. The event was co-hosted by two of the area’s speed skating clubs, the Kingston Striders and the St Lawrence Rapids out of Brockville.
Mayor Mark Gerretsen was also on hand to welcome and encourage the skaters, aged 9 to 29 years old, in their pursuit of excellence in the sport, noting that he too was a Kingston Strider some 20-25 years ago when the Striders were but a handful of families skating out of the Memorial Centre at 5:00 a.m. The Striders have grown and evolved since then, much in keeping with the sport of short track speed skating in general, with hometown athletes who have gone on to provincial, national and international competitions in a sport that was officially added to the Olympic roster in 1992.
Three Kingston skaters qualified to skate at provincials, owing to their strong performances on the Ontario Cup circuit during the regular season. Brockville was represented by four athletes. Other larger clubs sent teams of 20-30 athletes, from cities as far west as London, north from Sudbury, east from Gloucester and south from Niagara.
Provincials took on a different format than the regular season Ontario Cup meets, as skaters needed to have seeding times in distances and track sizes recognized by Speed Skating Canada for national level competition. In a word, it was a “personal best” weekend for everyone, as all skaters raced in distances they hadn’t seen all season. Among these was a daunting 3000m endurance points race, a significant increase in distance for all skaters.
Kingston skater Sarah Ball, 13, was the Striders’ standout of the meet. Skating in the juvenile 2 female category, Ball finished with a bronze medal in her grouping of 12 skaters. Ball’s overall season finish in second place guarantees her a spot on Team Ontario, and she will head to the Eastern Canadian Short Track Championships in Sherbrooke Quebec on the weekend of March 24 and 25. Aliya Howard, 12, raced with a group of 15 competitors in the midget girls’ category. A week of illness prior to the meet impacted her results in the long distance race formats, and she finished just off the podium in fourth place. Howard now waits in position as the first alternate to Team Ontario, and hopes to join teammate Ball in Sherbrooke, representing Ontario at the national level meet for skaters under the age of 16.
Skating in the Open Female division was Junior B skater Sarah Shires, 16, a Brockville native who skates with the Kingston club. Shires has had a stellar year, and was competing for a place on Team Ontario for Canadian Short Track Championships, taking place in Richmond B.C.. Falling on the same weekend as the Eastern Canadian meet, the Canadian Championships is for skaters aged 16 to 23. Provincial results were not what Shires had hoped for however, as in race after race she lost her footing in a sport that is as highly technical as it is fast. Sustaining a fall during racing often eliminates a skater from competition entirely, but Shires has managed to secure a place as second alternate to Team Ontario and will find out within the next two weeks if her bid to continue onwards to nationals will be recognized.
During the medal ceremony at the close of Provincials, Kingston MPP John Gerretsen was on hand to welcome skaters once again and commended all athletes on their sportsmanship and performances. Gerretsen was once, as his son Mark, a Kingston Striders skater. Also on hand to help present the medals were Tony Zegers, 82, a Kingston club member who currently holds speed skating world records for his age class in several distances, and Rick Hunt, a Level 5 international long track referee who calls Kingston home. Hunt’s experience includes officiating at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. The presentation the Kit Jarosz Memorial Trophy was one of the highlights of the awards event. This award is given annually, awarded for the fastest 500m skated by a female at any meet held in the province of Ontario. Among notable speed skating names to grace the trophy is current world record holder in the 1000m long track, Christine Nesbitt. Last year’s winner was Paisley Perrie, of the Cambridge Speed Skating Club. This year’s winner will be named at the end of the 2012 Ontario Winter games, taking place from March 9-11 in Collingwood/Barrie.