Citing high COVID-19 infection rates in Milwaukee and early athlete test results, the U.S. speed skating board of directors decided in an emergency meeting on Sunday that it would not allow not the spectators to attend the US Olympic Long Track Trials to be held Wednesday through Sunday at the Pettit National Ice Center.
“This is the most difficult action I have had to take in my 13 years as Executive Director,” said Randy Dean of the Pettit Center in a message sent to ticket holders Sunday night.
Dean said the staff at the Pettit Center, who have worked tirelessly to prepare the venue, and a large group of volunteers are extremely disappointed with the result but respect the decision “to give the best chance for athletes to compete safely in the trials and fulfill their dreams of competing for a place on the 2022 U.S. Olympic team.
Clearly and straightforward, the decision is a blow to the Pettit Center, which expected to draw between 1,400 and 1,500 fans each of the five days for the trials, which begin Wednesday.
About 70 athletes are expected to participate in the trials.
Despite the absence of fans, there will be great drama at the Pettit Center speed skating oval as athletes compete for places on the US Men’s and Women’s Olympic Team that will compete in the Beijing Winter Games. in February.
The Pettit Center also hosted the Olympic long track trials four years ago ahead of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“We brought the trails back here in 2018 for the first time in 20 years,” Dean said. “We were delighted and they chose to come back because of the success we have had with our site. The athletes loved it, the coaches loved it, the fans were awesome. US Speed Skating wanted to come back here and replicate that success.
The event is important to Milwaukee because of its speed skating heritage, which dates back to the 1960s, when skaters competed on an outdoor oval on the grounds of Wisconsin State Fair Park. The interior oval of the Pettit National Ice Center opened on January 1, 1993.
Over the years, several legendary skaters have trained at the Pettit Center and have lived in the Milwaukee area, including Dan Jansen, Bonnie Blair-Cruikshank, Chris Witty and Shani Davis, all of whom have won Olympic gold medals.
America’s once powerhouse speed skating teams performed poorly at the 2014 and 2018 Olympics in terms of podium finishes.
“There is renewed optimism with the 2022 games with some recent achievements at the World Cup level,” Dean said.
Among those to watch during practice is 17-year-old rising star Jordan Stolz of Kewaskum, known for his efficient cornering and high speed on the straights. Stolz’s latest breakthrough came in Calgary, Alta., In December, where he won his first World Cup medal, winning a silver in the 1,000-meter. He also set a new world junior record in the 500 meters in Calgary.
“He really did come up very quickly,” Dean said.
Another skater to watch is Erin Jackson, who, at 29, is still relatively new to speed skating after quitting inline skating. Four months after making the switch, Jackson qualified for the 2018 Winter Games, becoming the first black American woman named to an Olympic long track team.
Jackson arrives in Milwaukee after winning four World Cup races this season.
“She really started to fend for herself,” Dean said.
Veteran skaters Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia will also compete at the Pettit Center.
At 33, Bowe is trying to make his third Olympic team. She finished 2021 with a gold in the 1,500 meters and a silver in the 1,000 meters at the World Cup in Calgary.
Mantia, 35, is also on track to compete in her third Olympics. Approaching Milwaukee, Mantia placed # 1 in the 1,500 meters. Mantia is also a three-time world champion in the mass start race.
The men’s team pursuit team of Mantia, Emery Lehman and Casey Dawson are expected to travel to Beijing as medal contenders. The trio set a world record earlier this season.
“We are looking for some great and exciting races,” said Dean.
Although spectators will be absent, the event still has significance for the Milwaukee region and will put the city in the national spotlight. American network will provide live television coverage from the Pettit Center for the five days.
“We think it’s important that the city of Milwaukee be considered an Olympic city,” Dean said. “Few places can host Olympic trials. We are one of the last to do the trials because the Olympics are approaching in February. We’re kind of riding the tsunami of all the hype going into the Olympics. We are delighted to find him here and pound our chest a bit. “
The national team is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the country’s only other indoor speed skating oval is located. There are only five indoor ovals in North America, as well as one outdoor facility in Minnesota.
“There are athletes who live in Salt Lake City who started their training here,” Dean said. “One of our roles here is that when we develop skaters, we launch them into the national program. We would love to have the national program here, but years ago this change was made.
The Salt Lake City Oval claims to have the fastest ice conditions in the world due to its high elevation location.
“The air is finer. This has certain advantages, ”Dean said. “We can’t compete with that, but we think we’re among the fastest ovals at sea level. One of the other reasons skaters come here is that our conditions will more faithfully replicate what they are on. go skating in Beijing. At sea level, we reproduce the temperature and ice conditions in order to feel what it will be like in China. “
Dean thanked Pettit Center Facilities Manager Paul Golomski for his constant work in preparing the ice for this week’s Olympic Trials.
“The ice will be quick,” Dean said.
Dean had hoped that the young fans hitting the slopes this week would take an interest in speed skating, which would give the Pettit Center’s recruiting efforts a boost.
“We would like to have more numbers,” he said. “We were hoping that the youngsters could be excited about the trials here and be inspired by the athletes and be on the podium themselves in the future.”
Refunds will be given to those who purchased tickets in advance. However, ticket holders will have the option of having ticket costs reclassified as a charitable donation to the Pettit National Ice Center to offset costs incurred in preparing for the event.