Champs taking place amid upsurge in interest

Speed skaters (from left) Max Cathro (10), Zakari Evangelou (10), Lukas Ghidella (12), Brooke...
Speed skaters (from left) Max Cathro (10), Zakari Evangelou (10), Lukas Ghidella (12), Brooke Cathro (11) Andrew Nicholson, Tahlia Jones (12), Jazmyn Evangelou (12) and Dayton Henderson (8) go through their paces at the Dunedin Ice Stadium yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The speed freaks are gathering in growing numbers.

And they will be taking their skates out for a belt around the Dunedin Ice Stadium tomorrow.

The venue is hosting the Dunedin Open Speed Skating championships.

The sport is enjoying an upsurge in interest and former Winter Olympian Andrew Nicholson is helping steer the next generation of speed demons.

He has been leading classes of up to 15 youngsters and said there were some promising skaters among the group.

The 50-year-old competed at three Winter Olympics and is also an endurance cyclist. He previously held the Guinness world record for around-the-world cycling.

But while Nicholson, who works at Moana Gym and is part-time art trader, has a high performance background, his goals are modest. He is just keen to help provide opportunities.

"They are just kids starting out but I regularly get a group of up to 15 kids on a Saturday morning and a Wednesday night," he said.

"It does not sound like much but it is a good start for Dunedin. It is enough to justify a club and some of them have got a lot of talent.

"A lot of them come from figure skating, so the basic skills are there.

"Some of them could be good in the future but the main thing is they have fun.

"I think the sport, over the years, has got a little bit preoccupied with trying to create Olympians without realising we need base numbers."

About 25 competitors will contest the championships.

They are mostly younger competitors and are coming from as far away as Queenstown and Christchurch.

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