New Zealand speed skater qualifies for Sochi

THE ICE MAN: Palmerston North’s Shane Dobbin, here competing at Sochi in Russia, is set to contest his second Winter Olympics when he heads back there later this month.
THE ICE MAN: Palmerston North’s Shane Dobbin, here competing at Sochi in Russia, is set to contest his second Winter Olympics when he heads back there later this month.

A bunch of Kiwi speed skaters attempted to qualify for the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Shane Dobbin was the only one to get it done.

The Palmerston North skater is now only a month away from contesting the 5km and 10km events at Russia's Black Sea tourist city.

It has taken Dobbin and his coach, father Roy, about five years to get to where he is now.

Shane, 33, took up the sport only a year before he represented New Zealand at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Until then he had been a professional inline skater, as his brother Kalon still is in Europe, winning many world titles.

At Vancouver, Shane was 16th in the 5km, when his goal had been top 10, and crashed in qualifying in his specialist 10km.

Sochi won't be foreign to the man who has always been a distance-type athlete.

Dobbin was there last year after qualifying for the world single-distance championship finals, a test run before the big event early next month. He was sixth in the gruelling 10km from 16 skaters and 10th in the 5km from 24 starters.

Roy said the past two years haven't been kind to Shane. Two years ago he was sick with a viral illness, couldn't shake it and his body broke down.

"And last year he pushed it too hard making up lost ground. Ice [skating] is very hard on the body and he needed two months recovery."

Dobbin is not alone in skaters switching from inline to ice, many after inline missed out on inclusion in the Summer Olympics.

Roy Dobbin said ice skating was very technical and skaters needed five to six years to convert and 10 years to be confident.

"Technically Shane is not too bad, but he needs to think about it all the time.

"If he had switched over five years earlier than he did, he would be a definite medal prospect. He has improved 20 per cent over the last year, but unfortunately everyone else around the world has too."

New Zealand's Winter Performance Programme saw potential in Shane and that he needed fulltime coaching. So Roy took time off his work as a self-employed builder and they spent seven months overseas.

They tried the Netherlands, but with the poor exchange rate and barely seeing the sun in three weeks, they opted for the clear days and high altitude of Salt Lake City, Utah, where the 2002 Winter Olympics were held.

When not skating, Dobbin, married to an Australian woman, lives in Brisbane and is now training in Germany where the ice is similar to Sochi's. There are no long-track facilities in New Zealand or Australia.

During the year he competed in World Cup events in Calgary (Canada), Istana (Kazakhstan), Berlin and he got on the podium at Salt Lake City.

He and his father leave for Sochi at the end of the month. Shane's event is on the first day of competition so he won't be attending the opening ceremony.

Safety is not fazing them, despite black widows blowing themselves up in nearby Volgograd. The Dobbins should be safe in the spectacular Adler ‘IceBerg' indoor area.

"For anyone to get in there is going to be a miracle," Roy said. "When we went there last year the whole village was completely enclosed with checkpoints. There were metal detectors, vehicles were inspected."

Manawatu Standard