Speedskating - Country histories

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Main source: Skøytenytt National All Time & Encyclopedia

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Australians took up ice-hockey at an early date and built a rink in Melbourne around 1905. A country match against a US navy team was played in 1907 and regular club and state championships have been arranged since 1909. Most Australian speedskaters were reared in such hockey rinks. The Australian skating federation was formed in 1931 and joined the ISU in 1932. Their first international participant was George Kennedy, who entered the Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 with a 29th place in the 500 m as his best result.

The next Australian to take on the world was Colin Hickey. He went to the OG at Bislett, Oslo 1952 without impressing more than Kennedy had, but from 1955, he travelled regularly to Europe for winter training and improved his results dramatically. Hickey was Australia's first great skater. He qualified for the 10000m in world championships twice, 1956 and 1959, both in Oslo, and both times his result was 11th place overall. In the OG, he has two 7th places from Misurina 1956, and at the world championship 1960, he became the first and as yet only medallist from his country with his 3rd place in the 500 m.

From 1957, speedskating in Australia was organised by the Australian Ice Racing Council, and since then, Australian skaters trying various more or less desperate means to stay alive were regular winter guests at European skating venues. Colin Coates of Melbourne, Victoria, probably is the greatest Australian talent ever. He made his debut at the OG in Grenoble 1968 at about the same competitive level as Kennedy and Hickey at their debuts. He returned 1972 and broke through the year after with a 13th place in the world championship. He reached the finals of 7 world championships in a row with an 11th place overall in 1974 as his best. Twice, he was 4th in the 10000 m, and he scored an Olympic point with his 6th place in the same distance at the Innsbruck OG 1976. He made history with his Olympic career, which spanned 6 consecutive games, an unique winter-Olympic record.

In his time, Australia and New Zealand arranged memorable country-matches at Lake Ida in New Zealand, starting in 1973 and going on biannually until 1979, Australia winning all 4 matches.

Towards the end of his career, Coates took up coaching and produced a team of talented skaters. The best were Michael Richmond of Adelaide, South Australia, who reached 15th place twice in the sprint world championships with a 5th place in the 1000 m 1986 as his best single achievement and 5 times qualified his country for a two man quota in the sprint championship, and Danny Kah, also of Adelaide, who became Australia's third great skater, possibly the greatest. He made his mark with a 7th place in the 1500 m at the 1985 junior world championship, entered his first senior world championship 1986 and broke through 1988 with a 9th place overall and a 4th place in the 5000 m as his best single achievement. He was #9 again in 1990 and topped his career in Heerenveen 1991 with a 7th place overall and some memorable races against home favourites Thomas Bos and Leo Visser, beating Bos by only 1/100 of a second in the 1500 m.

In 1978, the ISU arranged their first short-track championships, with an Australian winner at that, but it signalled the demise of Australian long track speedskating. No longer was it necessary to spend months and fortunes at the other side of the globe to be able to fight for medals, and since 1994, they disappeared from the speedskating championships. The only "long track" in existence in Australia was a highland lake near Mt. Buffalo in Victoria state. The lake was used by skaters for training since the 1940s when the ice-conditions permitted it, and sometimes when they didn’t permit as well. But when the international skater Eddie Spicer (participant at the world championships 1957 and 1958) drowned there in 1997, skating was prohibited.

It would seem that things might have to materialise in terms of facilities before the two Colins, the Mike and the Danny would get any successors. However, at the turn of the millennium, some Australians appeared in training at Calgary and Salt Lake City and toured the World Cup with limited resources just like in the good ol’ days. Andrew Claus from Brisbane and Mark Eaton from Melbourne appeared in 2000 skating half-decent times, and from 2003 they were joined by the notable short-tracker Richard Goerlitz from Brisbane, who qualified for the regional world championship qualifier both 2003 and 2004 and started beating the old Australian records of Mike Richmond last year. However, things did not develop as they hoped. Goerlitz failed to qualify for the Torino OG and after the Sprint World Championship in Heerenveen that year, where he finished 49th and last, he stopped skating competitively.

In 2007 and 2008, long-track speedskating in Australia seemed all but extinct, but now the Olympic Games are nearing again, and as if by magic, three Australian inliners appear on the ice: Sophie Muir, Joshua Lose and Daniel Greig. Times will show what will come out of this.

Statistics(November 2008):

Australian records:
Richard Goerlitz 10,74 Collalbo Feb 15 2004
Richard Goerlitz 36,94 Salt Lake City Dec 31 2004
Richard Goerlitz 1.11,69 Salt Lake City Nov 20 2005
Richard Goerlitz 1.50,52 Salt Lake City Oct 30 2004
Joshua Lose 4.04,09 Heerenveen Jan 4 2009
Danny Kah 6.52,14 Calgary Feb 17 1988
Danny Kah 14.17,70 Heerenveen Feb 10 1991
Richard Goerlitz 147,380 Calgary Dec 14-15 2005
Danny Kah 163,377 Davos Jan 18-19 1992
Danny Kah 161,575 Heerenveen Feb 9-10 1991

Sophie Muir 40,84 Heerenveen Jan 25 2009
Sophie Muir 1.22,21 Heerenveen Jan 25 2009
Melissa Sandford 2.12,92 Calgary Dec 19 1993
Melissa Sandford 4.36,19 Calgary Dec 18 1993
Melissa Sandford 7.59,46 Calgary Oct 30 1993
Sophie Muir 176,445 Hoorn Dec 13-14 2008
Melissa Sandford 183,273 Calgary Nov 25-26 1993
Melissa Sandford 183,446 Calgary Dec 17-19 1993

Australian top 6 achievements in the Olympic Games:

500m men
1000m men
1500m men
5000m men
10000m men1
Total, men1
500m women
1000m women
1500m women
5000m women
Total, women

Participants in international championships and Olympic Games:

1.Colin Coates, Globe, Melbourne 26 events
2.Danny Kah, Adelaide Vikings 12
3.Mike Richmond, Adelaide Vikings 11
4.Philip Tahmindjis, Deventer IJC 10
5.Colin Hickey 8
6.Jeanette Ann Neil, OSK 5
7.Roy Tutty and
Cary Cassidy 4
9.James Lynch, Fivedock and
Karen Gardiner 3
11.Eddie Spicer,
Alan Heffernan and
Gus Katinas 2
14.George Kennedy,
John Eyre,
Teddi Jenkins,
Barry Mayburry, and
Richard Goerlitz 1