Speed skating club aims to live up to storied past
By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex
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.
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.
Lions skaters have filled Saskatchewan’s development team.
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.
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.
The Lions have been a part of Saskatoon’s sports scene since 1942.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.