Host club expects medal haul
How far the South Canterbury Speed Skating Club has come in a short time will be revealed at the New Zealand Bank Track Championships this weekend.
The Timaru-based club will provide 38 out of the 69 entrants and is expected to contend for titles in most categories.
World champion Peter Michael will be the man to beat after returning from his training base in Columbia, which regularly produces some of the world's top competitors.
Timaru's Nicole Begg will also have her first serious competition in 16 months and is hoping to keep intact her nine-year unbeaten run at New Zealand championships.
With 23 turning up from the North Island, all the country's top skaters will be on display except for the junior boys.
Timaru's new track has proved fast so a number of records could well come under threat.
Michael and Begg are chasing the 300m time trial record, having both ducked under it in training.
Begg already has a mortgage on all the New Zealand records but setting another one would prove her health problems are behind her.
Michael would love to beat Shane Dobbin's time of 25.957sec to prove he is on the way to supplanting him as New Zealand's best ever men's speed skater.
Kapiti's Josh Whyte and Antony Nalder, of Hutt Valley, are both very fast sprinters, so hopefully the presence of Michael can bring out the best in them as well.
Begg will face team-mate Marie Kuepper and Upper Hutt's Stephanie Challis in the sprints.
She might find the open 10,000m points elimination and 15,000m tougher tasks, with several of the intermediate and junior skaters keen to knock her off in races that can sometimes be tough on the favourite.
A number of intermediate and junior records could also be under threat.
South Canterbury coach Bill Begg said early in the season he thought a realistic goal for the club was to win 50 per cent of the 52 New Zealand titles up for grabs.
"But more realistically the club can aim for around 32 to 36 of the titles."
While South Canterbury has nine of the 12 junior girls there is stiff opposition from Monique Cleeve, of Wanganui, along with the Hutt Valley pair of Olyvia Mayhew and Georgia Hurley.
Begg said this was the most competitive grade of all.
"Although dominated by Judah Kelly, Analiese Le Roy, Laura Kuepper, Cassidy Oldfield and Tyla Smith all won medals at the national road champs."
Kelly lives in Dunedin but skates for South Canterbury.
Waimate's Emily van der Heyden had been flying recently and, in the last two weeks, had twice taken over half a second off the intermediate 300 time trial record, he said.
In the junior boys, Timaru's Guy McDonald, the Oceania cadet champion, has shown good form while Jan Kuepper is expected to add to his titles in the juvenile boys.
Begg said it was chance for those who had supported the new facility to see some great racing, with the men's 1000m on Saturday, one of the feature events.
- The Timaru Herald