Vernon’s Connie Kapak (left) leads a pack of skaters at the age-group long track national championships in Fort St. John.

Vernon’s Connie Kapak (left) leads a pack of skaters at the age-group long track national championships in Fort St. John.

Kapak speeds onto Games track

Vernon's Connie Kapak tracking speed skating glory at B.C. Winter Games.

History says the roots of ice skating date back more than 1,000 years to the frozen canals and waterways of Scandinavia and the Netherlands when men laced animal bones to their footwear and glided across frozen lakes and rivers.

Bet they never envisioned people strapping on skates with a long all-steel blade and then basically playing bumper cars on ice.

That’s what fans will see at the speed skating track in Armstrong this morning when the B.C. Winter Games opens. Action at the Nor-Val Sports Centre goes from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. (medal presentations at 4:30).

Vernon’s Connie Kapak pretty much skated before she walked, and has countless medals from provincial and national competitions. Reaching the podium at these Games would be one more step in her ultimate goal of being an Olympian.

“I definitely want to get to the Olympics one day, but there is a national development team in Calgary so that would be my first goal,” said Kapak, who turned 13 earlier this month but will be in tough racing as a 12-year-old. “It all depends on my times if I’m good enough for the development team.”

Kapak, whose father, Pete, has logged thousands of kilometres getting her to events, is stoked about racing in her own backyard.

“Yah, I’m nervous because I have a lot of friends who are going to come and watch me skate. There won’t be any Quebec skaters, who usually win at the nationals, and I know most of the girls here for the Games so it depends on who’s skating their best. I’m really excited about racing on the relay team which has two 13-year-old boys and two girls from the 12-13-year-old age group.”

Fans will love the roller derby feel of the short track races, where disqualifications and falls are not uncommon.

Kapak will race in short track (200 metres is the quickest distance) and long distance (3,000 metres), where she excels due to superb cardio.

“My endurance is really good because I don’t just train on the ice. I play club volleyball and school basketball and I’m in track and field.”

The Grade 7 Harwood Elementary student trains in Kelowna, while also picking up ice time with the Vernon club. She has enrolled in the High Performance Sports program at VSS for next year.

Two weeks ago, Kapak was second in the long track provincials in Fort St. James. Last weekend, she placed fifth in the national long track championships in Fort St. John, setting personal bests in all her races.

The ever-smiling, 5-foot-4 dynamo is even looking forward to sleeping on a mat at the Games.

“We’re staying at my school so that’s kind of neat since I know my way around. I know where the light switches are. We find (dead) mice in the lockers every couple of weeks but they usually hide when there are people around.”

Speed skating goes at the same times Saturday with medal presentations at 4:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, female hockey will likely draw hundreds of fans to Wesbild Centre, where action goes from 7 a.m. until 10:45 p.m, today, and from 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday. The medal games go Snday from 6:30-11 a.m.

There are 1,600 coaches and athletes here for the Games. Greater Vernon has 34 athletes, coaches and officials registered for the Thompson Okanagan Zone 2 team, according to the B.C. Games office.

Athletes competing in their hometown include Eric Byram (biathlon); Amy Edwards and Sydney Hofer (female curling); Deven Schmidt and Matthew Young (male curling); Jenna Lazar (female hockey); Devin Dunlop, Hayley Timmerman and Kayla Wirth (judo); Dayce Knopf, Teigan Moore, Emily Olds and Madison Powls (ringette); Gavin Donald, Jaden Parsons and Christopher Richardson (alpine skiing); Hannah Mehain and Aidan Oliphant (cross-country skiing); Tanner Gordon, Landon Gordon, Jake Ondrik, Hayden Person and Ty Schulte (freestyle skiing).

Vernon officials and coaches taking part include Cheryl Paris (female curling); Ryan Young (male curling); Nancy Dennis (figure skating); Aubrey Comley (judo); Kaitlin Weatherill (ringette); Ian Chernencoff (alpine skiing); Darren Derochie and Georgia Manhard (cross-country skiing); Mark Dobson (freestyle skiing).

Competing from Coldstream are Logan Meier (archery); Ali Roine and Brooke Toop (female hockey); Jason Holmes, Jaden Jones and Kauner Jones (judo); Langdon Kersey and Katrina Van Soest (alpine skiing); Connor Broderick, Patrick Dew and Zachary Fenn (freestyle skiing).

Brent Barker will be an official in freestyle skiing.

Armstrong has two athletes competing in male curling, Brendan Chapple and Brendan Cliff.

Enderby will be represented by athletes Sydney Castle and Tea Reimer (archery); James Huntington (badminton); Kylie Tokairin (female curling); Alyssa Skaalid (speed skating); and Sandra Farynuk (head coach, male curling).

Eric Embleton of Falkland will compete in cross-country skiing.

Lumby is represented by archery competitor Reid Hackett.