Local speed skater earns World Cup berths
Moose Jaw’s Graeme Fish is ready to compete against the best speed skaters in the world in December.
The 21-year-old member of the Moose Jaw Kinsmen Speed Skating Club won’t be overawed. After all, he skates next to the best distance skater in the world every day.
In October, Fish finished second in the 10,000-metres at the Canadian Championships and was third in the 5,000m at the event which was held at the Olympic Oval in Calgary. This qualified him to skate at World Cup 3 in Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland on Dec. 9 and World Cup 4 in Heerenveen, Netherlands on Dec. 16.
“It’s going well this year, for sure,” said Fish.
In Calgary, Fish trains with Ted-Jan Bloemen, the 10,000m Olympic gold medalist and 5,000m silver medalist from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and Jordan Belchos, who was fifth in the 10,000m in Pyeongchang.
“Skating with them has really motivated me and made me improve immensely and it’s led to me qualifying to go to World Cups. It’s pretty exciting,” Fish said.
Fish has been training at the National Training Centre in Calgary for three years and is a member of the national team as a NextGen athlete. He made his World Cup debut in November 2017 at World Cup 3 in Stavanger, Norway where he competed in the 10,000m.
Bloemen was born in the Netherlands but failed to achieve a breakthrough in their national team program. He began training in Canada, where his father was born, in 2014, as part of the Canadian program and began to make huge strides under the tutelage of Dutch-born Canadian national team coach Bart Schouten. In four years, Bloemen went from an also-ran in his home country to Moose Jaw’s Elaine Osmachenko was consistent when it came to results at the Traveler’s Club Championship in Miramichi, N.B. this past week. Osmachenko and her Moose Jaw Ford Curling Centre rink of third Candace Newkirk, second Malysha Johnstone and lead Sheri Logan posted a win and a loss through each day of competition at the national tournament, finishing the round robin with a 3-3 record and winning a tiebreaker before falling in the championship round quarter-final.
The Traveler’s Club format is designed as a national tournament for players who focus more on club play than chasing major championships -- each team is allowed only one player who has played in a provincial men’s, women’s or senior championship in the current or previous four curling seasons, or participated in a Grand Slam event in same span of time. As well, no player on the teams can have played in one of the four national championships in the previous four years. setting an Olympic record, and beat Dutch legend Sven Kramer in a to win gold.
“It’s cool to skate with the best in the world in what you’re good at,” Fish said. “For me, it shows me that I can be just as good as he is and that I can skate with people who are really good in speed skating and be competitive with them.”
Not only is the 31-year-old Bloemen a great mentor given his status in the sport, but his early career struggles and late breakthrough provide ample inspiration for younger skaters like Fish.
“I never really improved in skating until I moved out here,” Fish said. “I wasn’t the fastest when I was growing up or when I was in Moose Jaw, but hopefully I’m following in his footsteps and I’m excited to see what happens in the future.” Osmachenko opened the event with a 5-2 loss to Alberta’s Morgan Muise before stealing points in the final two ends to defeat B.C.’s Lori Olsen 7-4 for her first win. The local foursome got off to a positive start on day two, scoring six in the third end on their way to a 12-5 win over Nunavet’s Chantelle Masson, only to lose 7-4 to Northwest Territories’ Sarah Stroeder and sit at 2-2 after action on Nov. 21. That set up a crucial pair of games on Nov. 22, and it couldn’t have gone better for Osmachenko in the morning draw with a 4-3 win over Northern Ontario’s Kathie Jackson. Another win would have avoided the tiebreaker altogether, but a steal of one in the eighth gave Quebec’s Laura Thomas a 5-4 victory and left Osmachenko with her 3-3 mark after the round robin.
That sent Saskatchewan into the tiebreaker against B.C. on Friday morning, with Osmachenko able to make a 5-1 lead at the break stick on her way to a 5-3 win. Things didn’t go as well in Osmachenko’s playoff opener against Ontario’s Stacey Hogan; the back-and-forth con- Fish set two new personal bests early in the season. His time of six minutes, 23.71 seconds in the 5,000m was three seconds faster than his previous personal best in what he described as technically the best race he has ever skated. He also shaved six seconds off his personal best in the 10,000m with a time of 13:16. That time is the fourthbest personal best in Canadian history.
“My technique this year is the best it’s ever been,” Fish said. “It’s leading into some good directions in the sport. “I used to skate just kind of awkwardly as I got more tired. It’s really important in the longer distances to stay with the technique and it’s really helped me. As I get older, technique is more important than overall fitness.” Fish said that he has learned a lot working with Schouten this season and is excited to see how much he can improve as he continues to train under the national team coach.
At the World Cup stops, Fish will begin in Group B. He would love to be one of the top three or four finishers and move up to Group A for his next World Cup trip, but otherwise he’s focused on putting together two strong skates to build on the positive momentum of the season so far. “I would like to finish in the A group, but we’ll see,” Fish said. “I would just like to skate good times, skate technically well and keep on improving.”
Later this season, Fish will compete in Canada Cup 2 in Calgary from Jan. 3-6 to try to qualify for World Cups 5 & 6 in February and possibly earn a spot at the ISU World All-round Speed Skating Championships which are in Calgary to conclude the season.
Fish’s races on Dec. 6 and 13 will be webcast live on cbc. ca or at ISU.org/speedskating. test saw Team Sask. leading 2-1 through five ends, but Ontario rallied with three in the sixth and another deuce in seven for a 7-1 victory to end Saskatchewan’s run.