Jill Gilday of Team Northwest Territories rounds a corner on her way to a gold ulu in the 777-meter speed skating race at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility Thursday afternoon.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Jill Gilday of Team Northwest Territories has not always had a healthy body at the Arctic Winter Games. Her body of results, on the other hand, has been plenty healthy.
Gilday, 17, continued her perfect Games speed skating record Thursday at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility by winning the junior female 777-meter race. Gilday raced in the 2002 and 2004 Arctic Winter Games, winning gold ulus in all 10 of her races. She has been perfect in her three races on the Kenai Peninsula so far, with the junior female 1,500 and the junior female 1,500 relay to be contested today at the Multipurpose Facility.
“It’s pretty rare,” said David Gilday, who is Jill’s father and a Team Northwest Territories coach, of Jill’s perfect record. “I don’t know of anyone else who has done it.”
At the 2002 Games, which were co-hosted by Iqaluit, Nunavut, and Nuuk, Greenland, Gilday was able to win all her races despite battling a case of strep throat. She was healthy for the 2004 Games in Wood Buffalo, Alberta, but upon arriving on the peninsula, disaster struck.
“I always seem to have trouble staying healthy at the Games,” Gilday said.
She came down with a flu that was so bad that David said his daughter came to the rink for Monday’s 500-meter race with a bag.
“I wasn’t sure if she would race,” David said. “It’s guts. It’s attitude. She just won’t quit.”
David said he has heard elite athletes like Cindy Klassen, who won five speed skating medals in Turin to become Canada’s most decorated Olympian, and Lance Armstrong say that you’ve got to love the pain.
“I’m not quite sure if she loves the pain, but she’s at least become comfortable with it,” David said.
Battling through illness is not the only thing that makes Gilday’s record at the Games impressive. David Gilday said anything can go wrong at any time in speed skating.
“It takes being a good skater, but it also takes some luck,” David said.
The multiple mishaps that can await a speed skater were on display Thursday. The races contested were the juvenile 666-meter races and the junior 777-meter races. Juveniles are 12 to 14 years old, while juniors are 14 to 19 years old. The track is a touch over 111 meters long, just like the Olympics short track speed skating oval.
Marie Christine Auger, a juvenile skater from Northwest Territories, has been breaking all of Gilday’s Games juvenile records. She broke Gilday’s 666-meter Games record Thursday in preliminaries. David said she will most likely break his daughter’s record in the 1,000 today.
Nunavuts Clifford Bourgaize loses control in front of Alaskas Joe Fish in the 777-meter consolation C final race Thursday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Even with that record-breaking ability, though, victory is no sure thing. Auger had won the 500 and 777 at this Games, but in Thursday’s 666 final she lost an edge going around a corner and slammed hard into the heavily padded wall. Auger gamely got up and finished about 40 seconds behind winner Stephanie Bourgois of Northwest Territories, showing how razor thin the difference can be between first and fifth in speed skating.
The racing day of Yukon junior Troy Henry also showed the dangers that can await in speed skating. After winning a silver and two bronze ulus in 2002, Henry won all of the individual juvenile races in 2004 in Wood Buffalo.
He kept right on winning on the peninsula, taking the 500 and 1,000 earlier this week before running into trouble in Thursday’s 777. Henry got off to a slow start and fell behind Ryan Schoorlemmer of Alberta North and Brett Elliot of Yukon. Schoorlemmer had a three- or four-meter lead by the end of the first lap and held on for a win, while Henry was disqualified for cutting off Elliot during a pass.
“This is what I’ve been looking for,” said Schoorlemmer, who won his first gold ulu. “I looked behind me and saw that I had three or four meters right away. I was just hoping I could stay ahead for seven laps.”
Henry said his start stopped his run of gold ulus.
“I tripped up off the start,” he said. “Ryan got a gap, so I panicked and then I tried to make that bad pass.”
Henry said that Gilday is so good compared to the rest of the field that she rarely puts herself in a bad position.
“She’s about as fast as I am,” Henry said.
He held his fingers an inch apart and said that was the amount Gilday was able to hold back in each race, then spread his arms wide and said that was the amount Gilday had to give. That inch can make a big difference.
“When you go full out, it doesn’t take much to be absolutely out of control,” Henry said.
David Gilday said speed skating is a sport that rewards dedication and practice. Jill started speed skating when she was 4 years old. She trains on the ice from September to April and does off-ice training from the beginning of June until she hops on the ice. Since she can only get on the ice three days out of the week in Yellowknife, she spends three days cross-country skiing.
While the Arctic Winter Games were originally formed because of the trouble northern Canadian athletes were having competing with southern Canadian athletes in the 1967 Canada Winter Games, David Gilday said the Arctic Winter Games can serve as a steppingstone for athletes who want to compete with anyone.
For example, Mike Gilday, who is Jill’s brother and won all five possible gold ulus in Wood Buffalo and all four gold ulus in the individual events in Iqaluit, has been training at the western National Training Centre in Calgary, Alberta, and has a shot at making the Canadian national team at the national team trials later in March.
Jill is not sure if she will follow in her brother’s footsteps.
“I’m just concentrating on having fun now,” she said. “As long as everything keeps going well, I’ll keep doing it.”
David also said it has been fun watching other delegations rise to the level of Northwest Territories in speed skating at the Games. In 2002, Northwest Territories had 25 medals, Yukon had 15 and Nunavut had nine. In 2004, Northwest Territories had 34 medals while Yukon had 16 and Nunavut had five.
In 2006 thus far, Northwest Territories has 13 medals, Nunavut has 12 and Yukon has nine. At this Games, Nunavut has won eight of the nine medals in the juvenile male division, including three golds for Manasie Steven Kendall.
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