After Olympics, Locals Zip Into Speed Skating

By George Hunter, The Detroit News | March 12, 2018, 12:02 p.m. (ET)

The road to speedskating glory in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing starts in places like the Royal Oak-based Wolverine Sports Club.

It’s a niche sport, with only about 3,000 participants nationwide, said Wolverine Club coach Dave Rondot — but in the wake of this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, he said local interest has ramped up.

“Before the Olympics, we’d have maybe eight-nine kids on Saturday,” he said. “Afterward, we’re getting 19-20. It’s a small sport, but we open our arms to anyone who wants to stay.”

The Wolverine Sports Club on Sunday hosted the Michigan Speedskating Association’s Short-Track State Championships at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. The skaters ranged in age from 5 to older than 70.

Among those competing: 11-year-old Ann Arbor resident and Wolverine Club member Matteo Capodivacca, who says he’s attracted to the sport’s speed.

“I was doing figure skating and I ended up going really fast, which was fun,” the sixth-grader said. “I was watching the Olympics and I got into it and told my parents about it. Now it’s my favorite thing to do.

“I just love going really fast,” he said with a grin. “My favorite part is having the wind in my face.”

Also skating for the Wolverine Club on Sunday was 67-year-old Judy Smouter, who set records in multiple events in her age group, including the Masters 60-69 500 meter race.

Smouter, a member of the national speedskating team from 1971-75, said she still gets a charge out of the sport.

“I’m still very competitive, even at my age,” she said. “It’s also good fitness. It’s a beautiful sport; there’s a rhythmic swing to it.”

Rondot said interest in the sport spikes every four years after the Winter Olympics, although he said not many stick with it.

“I say speedskating is every man’s sport, because you don’t need a lot of money to succeed,” Rondot said. “It costs $20 per session, and you need probably about $350 initially for skates. That’s a lot cheaper than other sports like hockey.

“All the young ones think they’re going to the Olympics. That’s why they come out. But it’s a revolving door. Out of 50, maybe two or three stay. Most people don’t stick with things, and if they don’t nail it the very first time, they quit. It takes true effort to get good, and most people don’t want to do that.

“Those who do stay, though, are very committed, and it becomes a lifelong passion,” Rondot said.

In addition to speedskating, the Wolverine Sports Club has cycling and cross-country skiing. “Cycling was having a huge problem attracting kids,” Rondot said. “Speedskating was this little wing of the club, but now we’re bringing in the kids.”

Still, it’s difficult to get ice time at arenas, Rondot said. “Hockey owns almost every rink, and it’s hard to get ice time at a time that’s conducive to kids,” he said. “But we manage.

“A lot of kids don’t fit into team sports for whatever reason; maybe they’re not the right size for hockey,” Rondot said. “But when they come here, they fit in. It’s an intimidating sport in a non-intimidating culture. It develops self-confidence and character traits that’ll help them succeed in anything they do.”

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