There’s a new generation of women coming up through the ranks of long track speedskating and Minnesota native Giorgia Birkeland is leading the way.
Giorgia earned a spot on the 2020-2021 National Long Track Team and moved to Utah to train at the Utah Olympic Oval. She’ll live at the Olympic Park residences, based in the mountains of Park City, a far cry from her home in White Bear Lake. She and her father, Tom, traveled to Utah in May to get Giorgia settled in her new home.
“I’m not sure who’s more excited, me or my dad,” Giorgia said. “My dad is so excited; he’s bouncing off the walls.”
Learning to live and train at altitude can be quite an adjustment. Giorgia’s home in Minnesota was at an elevation of 942 feet, where her new home is at 7,000 feet. But Giorgia, who turns 18 in a few weeks, loves a challenge.
“Skating with Midway [Speedskating Club] was one thing, but this is a whole different ball game,” she said. “You just can’t be afraid to fail”
As a distance skater (she likes the 1500m and 3000m), Giorgia made her first junior world championship team last season, finishing 11th overall at the 2020 Long Track Junior World Championships in Poland. Her teammate, and fellow Midway skater, Greta Myers, wasn’t far behind, landing in 16th.
Giorgia missed the 2019 junior world championships after suffering a concussion that took her out of competition for nearly two years. Although she was discouraged, Giorgia’s role model contacted her, and it made all the difference.
“[Olympian] Brittany Bowe reached out to me,” Giorgia said. “She also had a concussion at the same time I did. She told me I’d be okay and back on the ice.”
Bowe’s prediction was correct. Giorgia stuck with it and kept improving. “Before every race, I told myself to not be a wimp,” she said. “It can be very satisfying to suffer and then do well.”
At 8 years old, Giorgia started skating with her older sister, Isabel, and joined the Midway club at 12. She graduated from Mahtomedi High School in May and will enroll at Salt Lake Community College this fall, working on a degree in kinesiology.
But her first love is skating. Really fast.
“I like speedskating because if you work on your technique and get better, you really see the results. It’s a gutsy sport where you put everything on the line.”
“Gutsy” is a good description for anyone who skates the longer distances, which can be a grueling endurance feat. She is excited to spend this year learning from her fellow skaters on the national team, getting stronger in the weight room and building on the progress she made last season.
Going from a local club to the national team can be a bit intimidating but Giorgia is more than ready to add her talent to the team. Her goal for this season is to be top three overall at the 2021 Junior World Championships in Japan.
“This is not an easy transition for anybody in this sport,” said Gabriel Girard, National Long Track Head Coach. “Giorgia is well educated about the challenge it represents and is hungry to improve as an overall athlete and speedskater.”
But really, she just wants to go faster.