Monday, November 9, 2020

Lions’ Lowe grows into new speed skating identity

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Bon Lowe skates at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval.
Bon Lowe has started to redefine his speed skating identity in his middle to late teenage years.

The 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Evan Hardy Collegiate has been part of speed skating since he was placed by his mom in a learn to skate program around age three.

Lowe used to play hockey too. He discovered in that sport he liked skating fast on the ice more than any other aspect of the game.

Feeling that need for speed, Lowe decided to focus on speed skating. The Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club member enjoyed a fair amount of success in the sport, but as he grew into his current body size of standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 172 pounds, Lowe is finding his new comfort zone with long track events.

“Right now, I like long track just because I am taller than most short track skaters are,” said Lowe. “I have been able to do a bit better at long track.

“It just feels nicer to skate.”

Lowe is a member of the Saskatchewan Speed Skating Association’s provincial short and long track teams, and he is entering his first season as a junior level skater. He sees himself specializing in the 5,000-metre and 10,000-metre distances.

Due to his taller height, Lowe believes the longer strides he can make are a big benefit when it comes to racing in longer distances. He is also intrigued by the strategy that goes into planning out a race that covers a longer distance.

“When you skate the longer distances, you have so much time to think,” said Lowe. “It is not a race that is won by the start.

“It is how you skate all throughout. You kind of have to be able to think about your race in the middle of it. You have to think about how you are doing it and what you are doing good and what you are doing bad.

“It gives you lots of time to work on the race, while you are doing the race. You are not necessarily stuck with the result you get right off the start.”

Veteran Lions coach Tim Comfort has coached Lowe for 10 years and has enjoyed watching the young skater evolve. Comfort said Lowe reached the top of the podium quite a bit in younger age groups before he hit his growth spurt.

Bon Lowe aims to make longer distances his skating specialty.
“When he was younger, he won three out of four years in a row Western Canadian Championships in short track,” said Comfort, who is also a Saskatchewan Speed Skating Association provincial coach and technical director. “He was the absolute dominant skater.

“Nobody could basically touch him. As they grow, you can be really good when you are young, and then all of a sudden, the day comes when people catch you, and then you have to decide how much you like it. I love the character building in that.

“When there is a little bit of adversity and you are not beating everyone easily anymore, then you really, really, are tested as to how much you love what you are doing. Anybody that ever plays a sport will have a taste of that. To see them face that and to figure it out is very, very, fun.”

Comfort said Lowe had to adjust his skating the taller he grew.

“Every year he has to get used to a new height, because he has grown so much, and he just doesn’t ever seem to stop,” said Comfort. “He may be at his adult height, and there are adjustments you have to make to your new height.

“Speed skating is a highly technical sport. He is needing to be adaptable and keep learning, because of his new height.”

Comfort has enjoyed watching Lowe evolve and gain an interest for competing in longer long track events. With that noted, Comfort added Lowe is still taking his first strides in a bigger world there.

“He has had some success, but he will have to keep working at it for a longer period of time, if he is going to be really good at long track,” said Comfort. “He is really good compared to others his age in Western Canada and Canada.

“Really good doesn’t mean he is in the top two or three, but he is still really good. The long legs could help him quite a bit in long track, if he keeps training.”

To this point in his career, Lowe has had limited opportunities to skate in a distance as long as 5,000-metres in competitions. Early last February at long track meet in Regina, Lowe won the 3,000-metre race in his age category in a time of four minutes and 55.76 seconds.

Now part of the junior level of competition, Lowe expects to go through some learning curves going up against more experienced skaters.

“Now, I am sort of mixed in a bigger pool again,” said Lowe. “I’m kind of the small fish in the pond.

Bon Lowe enjoys being a part of the speed skating community.
“I think there is lots of experience that I can gather being around all the older skaters. I’m looking forward to it, when I get to compete again. Right now, I’m really enjoying being able to gather all that knowledge.”

He looks forward to taking on that adventure as a member of the Lions, because he has had so many great experiences being part of that club.

“It has been really great,” said Lowe. “Some of my best friends that I’ve ever had I’ve met with skating.

“Being able to have this community that follows me and supports me and I can support them back too, not only is it just here in Saskatoon, but the sport is able to foster a good community all across the country. I know people all across Canada.

“I think wherever I go, I am able to be apart of this community of speed skating and of sport in general.”

Lions a staple at Clarence Downey Oval

Speed skating club aims to live up to storied past

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The Lions skate at the Clarence Downey Oval.
The Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club has been one of those constant good things in “the Bridge City’s” sports scene.

The Lions are one of the oldest sports clubs in Saskatoon having been established in 1942. They have been a fixture skating on the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval, which was named after the club’s first head coach, for long track practices and the Lions Arena for short track practices for as long as most can remember.

As the years go by, veteran coach Tim Comfort said the goal remains the same, which is to help the club’s athletes become better people and improve in the sport.

“We have over 100 skaters in the club from three-years-old to 20,” said Comfort, who is also a Saskatchewan Speed Skating Association provincial coach. “Like any other sport, working with kids is one of the most rewarding things you can do.

“To see them going from hardly being able to stand up to making a national team, it is hugely rewarding. It is more about working hard and the relationships between coaches and athletes and athletes and athletes.”

Lions’ skaters have won numerous provincial and national medals over the years and have gone on to reach the sport’s highest levels.

Way back in 1944, Craig Mackay won a city and provincial championship representing the Lions. He went on to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics held in 1948 in St. Moritz, Switzerland and in 1952 in Oslo, Norway.

Following in Mackay’s strides, John Sands, Peggy (Robb) Mueller, Bob Hodges and Gordon Goplen would move on from the Lions to skate for Canada at the Winter Olympics. Kelly McRuvie competed in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 1997 in Toronto and in 2001 Anchorage, Alaska, in the United States winning two medals.

The Lions are the club where Catriona Le May Doan first honed her skills before embarking on a decorated career representing Canada internationally. She skated in four Winter Olympics from 1992 to 2002.

Lions skaters have filled Saskatchewan’s development team.
Le May Doan captured gold in the women’s 500-metre competition in 1998 in Nagano, Japan and again in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States.

She won world titles in the women’s 500-metre distance in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and world women’s sprint titles in 1998 and 2002. La May Doan broke the women’s world record in the 500-metre distance on a number of occasions.

“She (Le May Doan) grew up right here in the Lions Arena and the Clarence Downey Oval,” said Comfort. “This is where they learned.

“There were a lot before Catriona too.”

Comfort believes the Lions have a good group of skaters in the present day too.

“Saskatoon is blessed in that all but a couple of the development team in Saskatchewan are from Saskatoon,” said Comfort. “We’re blessed with a lot of good skaters therefore there had to have been pretty good coaches too.

“The provincial team is again primarily again Saskatoon skaters, but some of the best skaters in the province are from other clubs.”

Currently, the Lions have 18 to 20 coaches working with athletes divided into four groups. Group 1 is the club’s “learn to skate” beginner group, and the levels progress up to Group 4, which is the “advance competitive” group.

The Lions also have an adult speed skating group for those that want to continue the sport in a casual setting.

“The club has done really well,” said Comfort. “The club is a very successful club with a tonne of excellent volunteers.

“There are many facets to it. There is coaching, administration, running meets, doing big fundraising and working on a committee with Friends of the Bowl. We have just lots of good volunteers in all areas, so we’re blessed in that way.”

Starting in the 2018-19 campaign, the Lions have been skating on a Clarence Downey Oval track that is build on top of a new track and field track at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. The old building the Lions used that was built in 1971 for the Canada Winter Games has been torn down and construction has started on a new multi-sport operations centre.

The Lions have been a part of Saskatoon’s sports scene since 1942.
Last season, the Lions changed in a series of portables set up next to the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval. Comfort said the ice and conditions at the track were “pretty darn good” last season, and he is looking forward to Lions growing into a new era, when the new multi-sport operations centre is completed.

“You know what I see the biggest benefit of the relationship with Friends of the Bowl is it is bringing other athletes to this area and increasing exposure to our sport so that we can grow,” said Comfort. “Some great young, talented and motivated kids can come and see a tremendous facility, good coaching and they want to be a part of it.”

For more information about the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club, feel free to contact the club at