An S.O.S.S. was sent out yesterday — Save Our Speed Skaters.

In a distress call just 10 months out from next February’s Winter Olympics, Speed Skating Canada said the performances of its athletes are being compromised by dramatic cutbacks at their training base in Calgary.

What it means for the speed skaters in the short term is they’re losing two months of critical training time this summer on the fastest ice in the world at the Olympic Oval in Calgary. For the long term, it could be the disintegration of this highly successful program.

“It’s a bit stressful right now to think I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be doing in July when I’ve been planning to be in Calgary training and on the ice,” said sprint star Jeremy Wotherspoon.

“It’s a tough time to do that leading up to the Olympics when a lot of different people — from the government, from Sport Canada, from the COC (Canadian Olympic Committee) — have announced to the public over and over what our goals are as a country this season.”

Indeed, the Canadian long track team is expected to produce 10 to 12 medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as part of a plan to see the nation top the medal standings, something which speed skating standout Kristina Groves said will be a lot tougher if their training schedule is derailed.

“To compete with the best in the world, you can’t marginalize ice time,” said Groves.
While a good portion of their training will be at the Richmond Olympic Oval, site of speed skating for 2010, the skaters rely on the Oval in Calgary as their main training base because it has all the infrastructure they need and perfect ice conditions. The Oval in Calgary has been hit hard by the economic crunch. The legacy funds created to run the facilities have taken a $40-million hit. The Oval budget has been slashed from $3.6 million last year to $2.1 million next year.

The regular funding partners for the Oval are the University of Calgary and Winsport, which said it doesn’t have the resources to keep running it at its previous level.

Speed Skating Canada is hoping to meet with Sports Minister Gary Lunn and Heritage Minister James Moore to ask for help. It’s also hoped they may get a hand from Sport Canada, the COC, or Own The Podium (OTP), created to make Canada the No. 1 nation at the 2010 Games.

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