Although speed skating is among the most watched Olympic sports, it hardly has a presence on college campuses. Until this year, that is, thanks to Glen Winkel.
Winkel, who has a Ph.D. in anatomy, spent many years of his adult life teaching medical school and researching as a biochemist. Winkel fell in love with speed skating because of its dependency on science. So, earlier this school year he started a speed skating team at Colorado College. Speed skating is not easy, but the team already has 25 eager members of all skill levels. However, according to Winkel, you can’t just hop on skates and start speed skating—it’s all about technique and applying the proper pressure to the ice. “Because ice is a frictionless surface, it’s all about science,” Winkel said. “Teaching speed skating technique requires me to talk about anatomy, physiology, and physics.”
Winkel’s knowledge of how to work with athletes comes from decades of practice. He coached bike racing for 20+ years, several of those years with the U.S. National Cycling team and the Olympic team. As a man of science, Winkel loves working with athletes because when they are hurt they don’t just want to get better, they want to build to a new level, according to Winkel.
Over the past few years, Winkel has sought out several speed skating Olympians and many of the best speed skating coaches in order to find answers to the most difficult questions surrounding the sport. By doing this, Winkel has developed a very unique approach to coaching. Rather than teach people the basics of skating, Winkel is committed to teaching beginners advanced techniques. “I explain to them why they must do it a certain way and that makes it easier for them to grasp how to do it,” Winkel said. “It’s easier to learn the most advanced method immediately, rather than learning one thing and having to change the muscle memory to learn something else later on.”
After speed skating a handful of years on his own, Winkel started practicing his skating in Honnen Ice Arena. About a year ago, a student suggested that he create a speed skating team at CC. At first, Winkel was tentative because he knew it would be a lot of work, but he then realized building a team was exactly what he wanted to do. “I want to create a program that really builds speed skating in Colorado Springs,” Winkel said. “By focusing on the concept of a team, everything started falling into place.”
Currently, the team practices seven times a week: Monday through Friday in the afternoon, with additional sessions on Tuesday and Thursday morning. While anyone can come to any practice, there are specific practices that cater more towards beginners, and others that cater more towards the advanced group.
While the level of speed skating skill heavily ranges within the team, there is one member that Winkel is especially excited to have on the ice. “One of the best speed skaters in the country is now a sophomore here,” Winkel said. “She comes out of the Potomac Speedskating Club, which was coached by an Olympic gold medalist, but she retired from speed skating five years ago.”
The student, Sophie Mittelstadt, did indeed give up speed skating after training at one of the highest levels, but last week she was convinced to pick up the sport again. “I got her on skates last Thursday for the first time in years,” Winkel said. “And she was amazing—skating better than I ever have in the past six years.”
“What I love most about speed skating is that it isn’t just about athleticism, but also technique,” said Mittelstadt. “It can challenge you mentally as well as physically as you have to learn to put yourself in a specific crouched position in order to go faster. Since the ice time at CC is free, it’s an incredible opportunity to get involved in the sport since at most skating rinks, renting ice time is quite expensive.”
With Mittelstadt, the seven students who discovered the team at the club fair, and the other 15 or so who have gotten involved in the past few months, the team is slowly coming together. But bigger picture goals are slightly more complicated. “When we went to get support and funding for the club there were two requirements. One was that we have a certain amount of members, which was no problem at all, but number two was that there had to be intercollegiate competition,” Winkel said. “Well, we’re the only college that has a speed skating team in the whole United States.”
So part of the club’s goal is to generate interest from students at other schools as well. “It’s going to take a couple of years to build this intercollegiate competition,” Winkel said. “But already, there are two students at USAFA who are interested. We could bring them to our rink and have a competition.”
To have an officially recognized team, a college should have at least 4-5 skaters, and Winkel is working on generating teams at University of California Berkeley, University of Denver, University of San Francisco, and other schools as well. His passion for the sport is palpable and, with the current level of interest and commitment from the student body, this program is about to take off. Anyone is welcome to join: this team is just getting started and has a big future ahead of them.