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Aussie skater stays sharp chasing Bolt

19 June 2013

SPEED SKATING: Like many kids, Daniel Greig was given a pair of rollerblades when he turned six. He just took the challenge a little more seriously than most.

Around the time that he won two titles at the Inline Skating Junior World Championships in 2008 and 2009, Greig watched on as roller sports failed to gain Olympic status.

His Olympic dreams frozen, Greig, then 17-years-old, moved to Enschede in The Netherlands- the home of Speed Skating- in an attempt to transfer his skills to “the track athletics of the Winter Olympics”- Long Track Speed Skating.

“I carried a lot of good fitness over from Inline Skating, but I had to re-learn to skate. They look kind of similar, but the techniques are totally different,” admitted Greig, who was trounced by 12-year-old kids when he first started Speed Skating on ice.

But his rapid improvement can be seen in the fact that Greig became one of just a handful of Speed Skating athletes in history to break the 34 second barrier over 500m before the age of 21.

And the fact that matching Usain Bolt’s 100m World Record mark of 9.58 seconds on ice is a realistic possibility.   

“My coach thinks I can clock 9.4 seconds in the first 100m of a 500m Speed Skating race,” said Greig, whose personal best on ice is down to 9.62 seconds.

“I’ve done 9.2 seconds in Inline before and I think that time is achievable.”

Now 22-years-old and on the cusp of qualifying for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Greig still contests both sports to his advantage.

“It helps me to keep sharp. It helps me keep my competitive edge,” the Deakin University Mechanical Engineering student said.

“There is often a long gap between Speed Skating races so I think it gives me an advantage to be racing Inline and Speed Skating.”

Despite being a “pretty big outlier” in a fairly non-athletic family, you get the sense that Greig has a sharp desire for physical challenge and a yearning to chase greatness.

“I have a distinct memory of my first years training with the skating team. If we quit early or didn’t try hard enough our coach would say ‘you won’t ever be able to go to the Olympics with that effort.’

“Breaking the 34 second 500m barrier is a pretty cool achievement, but there is still room for improvement. I am still not as good on ice as I am Inline Skating- there is still more to go.”

A Speed Skating track is approximately the size of an athletics track, and without a Long Track rink in Australia, Greig travels overseas to perfect in a short time what other athletes have done their whole lives.

“We are working on everything. Speed skating is still fairly new to me. Everywhere I see I can improve.”

“You must be very balanced, flexible and have good strength and agility. If you are missing one part you can’t put it all together on the ice.”

With a 173cm frame and a race weight of 69kg, Greig’s peak power to weight ratio has been measured at just shy of 33 watts per kilogram body mass. He squats an impressive 200 kilograms.

He is still based in The Netherlands for most of his training, and spends around 180 days in hotel rooms each year. Greig’s training partner is Dutchman Michel Mulder, World Champion in Inline Skating and on ice.

As close as they are in training and in competition, as Greig explains, “that is still 10 places at a World Championships.”

“Michel has always been faster on ice, but when we first started training together I was faster on skates.

“I’ve developed a good way of learning new things and incorporating them quicker than most people would in order to get as fast as I can.”   

The countdown to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia stands at 233 days to go and Greig has set himself the challenge of achieving a top five result in the 500m or 1000m sprint distance events.

“If it all goes well and if I stay really positive and I keep working really hard, then I think it’s a possibility,” he said, having a best place World Cup finish of 8th. 

Still needing to qualify for Sochi, Greig will contest the World Inline Championships in August before switching his focus to the first two Long Track Speed Skating World Cup events in November which double as Olympic qualification events.

Australia hopes to send a team of over 50 athletes to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, taking place in Russia from 7 – 23 February.

Taya Conomos

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