Penticton speedskater improving at a rapid pace

Abi McCluskey is making quick strides in the world of long track speed skating

PENTICTON’S ABI MCCLUSKEY is carving up a reputation as a strong long track speed skater. McCluskey always enjoyed skating lines during hockey practices. McCluskey trains out of Kelowna since Penticton doesn’t have a speed skating club.

PENTICTON’S ABI MCCLUSKEY is carving up a reputation as a strong long track speed skater. McCluskey always enjoyed skating lines during hockey practices. McCluskey trains out of Kelowna since Penticton doesn’t have a speed skating club.

Abi McCluskey is a diamond in the rough.

That’s how she is described by her speed skating coach, Nancy Goplen.

The Pen High student has been traveling to Kelowna twice a week to train at the Okanagan Regional Training Centre with Goplen. The work put in has helped McCluskey progress to a national level.

“She competed in the 2012 B.C. Winter Games in Vernon, placing 12th in the 3,000-metre event and third in Final B 400-m and 1,500-m, and qualified to race on the Canada Cup Long Track Racing Circuit this season,” said Goplen. “The Canada Cup circuit includes skaters who make a pre-determined time standard and it includes a level as high as our Olympic and national team skaters.”

McCluskey, who is in Grade 11, is the second youngest competitor in the circuit.

Goplen, who started working with McCluskey after the B.C. Winter Games in Vernon, discovered that the former hockey player was made for the long track speed after a summer camp in Calgary organized by the ORTC. Goplen said McCluskey’s technique isn’t perfect yet, but the physical and mental strength needed to compete  is evident.

“While still very new and young to the high performance long track circuit, Abi has posted some very impressive results,” said Goplen.

Those results include being in the top 10 in the 500-m for under 19 years in Canada.  In the 1,000-m, she posted a top 20 result.  Goplen said that is impressive since she only has a few days before competitions to practice on the long track oval and spends only two days a week on the short track in Kelowna.

Goplen said McCluskey will be named to the 2013-14 B.C. High Performance training team.  After a summer of dryland training, next season will be very exciting for McCluskey, who has a shot at qualifying for the Canada Games and next year will go to the Canadian Junior championships. Presently, Goplen said she would place McCluskey in the top three provincially. The team takes four skaters for long track. Times for skaters are converted into points and Goplen said McCluskey would be hovering  between second and third.

“That’s really good because she’s competing against two of the girls that she has to go against one year older,” said Goplen. “One will be training full time in Calgary next year.  It’s up to me to try and get her to have that kind of exposure on the ice.”

Goplen said McCluskey really took things to another level last May as she began going to Kelowna for dry land training and was on the ice in June and July.

What Goplen likes of McCluskey is she is coachable. Whatever is asked of her, McCluskey will try it. Having also played high school basketball and volleyball, Goplen said she is very athletic.

“That’s an attraction,” said Goplen. “I like to have kids that do other things so they learn lots of physical literacy skills along the way.”

McCluskey said her season went well considering it was her first on the long track.

“I didn’t know what to expect going into it,” said McCluskey, enjoying time at Apex Mountain during the tail end of spring break. “The results I had were pretty amazing to me.”

She credits Goplen for her success. The biggest improvements in McCluskey’s opinion have come in her speed and becoming comfortable with her technique and gaining confidence. McCluskey is excited about maybe competing in the Canada Games.

“I didn’t even know that it would be a possibility when I started skating,” said McCluskey, who just loves being on the ice.