Coach Fenn a big loss for speed­skat­ing

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - GARY D’AMATO

When Shani Davis was a young speed­skater start­ing to open eyes with his tal­ent and po­ten­tial, he didn’t feel a sense of be­long­ing on the U.S. team. He was an African-Amer­i­can from Chicago, an out­sider who felt lit­tle sup­port from the speed­skat­ing es­tab­lish­ment. Then he met Bob Fenn. The long­time Mil­wau­kee-based coach took Davis un­der his wing at the Pet­tit Na­tional Ice Cen­ter and helped the speed­skater reach great heights as a two-time Olympic gold medal­ist and the ca­reer leader in World Cup points.

“Bobby was a pil­lar of con­fi­dence be­cause at the time I worked with him, I was alone,” Davis said Wed­nes­day. “When Bobby came along I had that sup­port, that per­son who be­lieved in me. He was a fighter, a New Yorker, and he in­stilled that in me at a young age. I re­ally needed him.”

Davis was Fenn’s most ac­com­plished

ath­lete but the coach known af­fec­tion­ately as “Roscoe” was will­ing to help any skater who walked through the doors at the Pet­tit Cen­ter, his home away from home.

“He would take on any­body,” Davis said. “To have his knowl­edge be­stowed on me, I was re­ally lucky. He was the best guy you could have in your cor­ner.”

Fenn, a fix­ture on the ice for decades and a man known for his self­less ded­i­ca­tion, big heart and boom­ing voice, died un­ex­pect­edly at his Waukesha home Sun­day. He was 73. “It’s un­be­liev­able what this man did for the sport,” said Mike Green­land of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who trained un­der Fenn as a teenager and be­came a close friend. “I’m a bas­ket case. Ev­ery­body is.”

Fenn was one of my fa­vorite peo­ple not only in speed­skat­ing but in all of sports. He was opin­ion­ated,

hon­est and di­rect, qual­i­ties that didn’t al­ways en­dear him to U.S. Speed­skat­ing be­cause he was fre­quently crit­i­cal of the fed­er­a­tion. But it was never ma­li­cious. He was only look­ing out for his skaters.

Fenn also gave me one of my all-time fa­vorite quotes. When I wrote a piece at the 2014 Win­ter Olympics about the hugely dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance of the U.S. long-track team, he told me, “It’s like the col­lapse of the Ro­man Em­pire.”

I saw him just a

month ago at the Pet­tit Cen­ter and, as usual, he talked up the skaters he was coach­ing, es­pe­cially Theron Sands of Cham­paign, Ill., who is try­ing to make the Olympic team at 53.

“He was a great mo­ti­va­tor,” Sands said from Salt Lake City, where he is com­pet­ing for a spot on the U.S. World Cup team. “Bobby con­sid­ered me ca­pa­ble of win­ning the 10K and that’s what I’m work­ing for. In some ways it will be a more dif­fi­cult road for me now but I am go­ing to be more fo­cused be­cause

I am to­tally ded­i­cat­ing this to him.”

Fenn was born in Man­hat­tan, N.Y., and was a world-class speed­skater in his youth. He won gold and bronze medals at the short­track world cham­pi­onships in 1976, though he al­most never talked about it.

“Only us old-timers know this,” Green­land said.

A long­time union car­pen­ter, Fenn helped build the Pet­tit Cen­ter and then spent thou­sands of hours on its ice, stop­watch and clip­board

in hand, help­ing skaters get more out of them­selves than they thought pos­si­ble.

“He was in­cred­i­bly good to and for so many young and as­pir­ing skaters and fam­i­lies,” four­time Olympian Dave Cruik­shank wrote in a text mes­sage. “His pas­sion and com­mit­ment to our sport was un­matched. He’s go­ing to be missed im­mensely.”

Vis­i­ta­tion will be from 4 p.m. Fri­day, Oct. 20 un­til the time of ser­vice at 7:30 at Harder Funeral Home, 18700 W. Capi­tol Drive.

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