Remembering old-time speed skating

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Four members of the Northbrook Speedskating Club show off their hardware at the 1964 Northshore Open. Neil Blatchford, Dianne Holum, Mary Saxton and Holly Blatchford (left to right) are shown with coach Ed Rudolph (crouching).

Neil Blatchford skated at the 1968 Grenoble Games. Holum is one of the club’s most decorated skaters. She won a silver medal in the 500 meters and bronze in 1000 in 1968. She earned gold in the 1500 and silver in the 3000 in 1972, silver in the 1000 in 1976, silver in both the 500 and 1000 in 1980 and she coached in 1984 in Sarajevo. Rudolph was a Team USA coach at the 1972 Sapporo Games.

The Mid-America Skating Web site has a wonderful picture gallery of old Northbrook Speedskating Club photos.

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Reader Stephen Cohen wanted to comment on a recent Pioneer Press/Chicago Sun-Times story about the Northbrook Speedskating Club’s impressive success at producing Olympians. Cohen, who still skates in Masters Division races, is a member of both Halls of Fame for the Northbrook Park District and East Chicago, Ind., Sports. He added that the old days of outdoor speed skating at the club go beyond the freezing of the Rudolph Velodrome.

Cohen recalls:

(Don’t forget) the importance of the Meadowhill Rink to the Speedskating Club and the Park District. When I was a member of the Club and later as its President, the fathers of the 50 to 100 members of the Speedskating Club couldn’t wait for three days of 15 degree or below weather so we could start laying ice in the middle of the Velodrome and create a 250 meter pack style track and a 300 meter time trial track for Long Track speedskating (we also laid out a 100 meter short track in the middle of the Rink). Our skaters dominated the outdoor skating competitions from Northbrook to Glen Ellyn to West Allis to St. Paul and Lake Placid (and Saratoga Springs). The parents of our club members, alumni, former Olympians like Chuck Burke, world barrel jumping champion Rich Widmark, Sam Hicks and Jack Mortell from Evanston, fathers from Park Ridge and skaters from the Western Suburbs joined us to make ice from approximately 8 p.m. until midnight or 1 a.m. when the Park District employees took over and expertly made ice the rest of the night. How many nights, we made ice and enjoyed the comradeship of individuals with diverse backgrounds and were refreshed with the food delivered to us by club mothers? The Chalet was the perfect warming house and place to stage races. We were fortunate to have an outdoor Zamboni which was kept in the Park District shed next to the Velodrome and prepared the ice after public skating every afternoon. Our speedskaters practice from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. every night and we held meets on Saturday and Sunday whenever possible, culminating the outdoor season with the Northbrook Open which attracted numerous former Olympians — most notably, Neil Blatchford, who gave everyone involved a sense of pride as he exploded on the start of a special 200-meter sprint. We owed a lot to Ed Rudolph who would help inspect the ice, Don Zordani and Jack Mortell (the current USA Short Track team manager) manage the fire hoses, and Sam Poulous who handled laying out the lines on the surface to give us an official track. Sam also conducted Metric Time Trials every Wednesday night to give our skaters experience when they traveled to Milwaukee for USISA Time trials every Saturday and Sunday. While I am guilty of not mentioning all the fathers and friends who worked on this labor of love, I know that they would agree with me that the club and village has suffered by not having this wonderful venue for our kids to utilize in the winter months (weather permitting). A winter like this one (2009-10) would likely have made it possible to have outdoor ice from November or December through March. Our children’s conditioning by skating six days a week was invaluable in their development and the cost was reasonable (parents’ time) and the time saved by not be required to drive to West Allis every day immeasurable. My lasting memories of the outdoor ice at Meadowhill Park include Johnnie Morris coming to the rink with his TV crew to interview our skaters (young and old) and before the US Speedskating Team left for the 1984 Olympics having Jan Goldman, Lydia Stephans, and Mark Huck doing their final workouts at Meadowhill before boarding their plane for Sarejevo.

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The Northbrook Speedskating Club will host the Northbrook Open Feb. 27 at the Northbrook Sports and Ice Arena.

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