Speed skater Konwicki a cut above the rest at B.C. Winter Games

Ben Konwicki knows he's one of the fortunate ones.

He lives in Prince George, which just happens to be one of of the three B.C. cities with an outdoor speed skating oval.

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As a member of the Prince George Blizzard Speed Skating Club, he's been training on that volunteer-maintained outdoor rink every season for six years now, whenever conditions will allow it. All that hard work cutting laps on the 400-metre oval paid off for the 13-year-old Konwicki three weeks ago when he became a national champion.

He won every race he entered at the the Canadian Youth Long Track Championships in Red Deer and last weekend in Fort St. John he joined forces with the Zone 8 team at the B.C. Winter Games and was a frequent flier to the medal podium.

In long track Konwicki reeled in gold in the seven-lap mass start event and snagged bronze in the Olympic-style 500-metre race. In short track he placed second in the 400m and the 2,000m points race.

There was more in store for the Grade 8 Kelly Road Secondary School student Sunday at the closing ceremonies in Fort St. John. Konwicki was selected for the W.R. Bennett Award over more than 1,000 athletes who competed in 15 sports at the three-day Games. He became the first Cariboo-North East (Zone 8) athlete ever to win the Bennett award, which is based on past and current athletic achievements in one of the BC Winter Games sports as well as leadership qualities and community involvement.

"It was a great experience, it was one of my first big team competitions where it's not just you, it's everybody as a whole," said Konwicki. "It's kind of like a mini-Olympics, the first really big stepping stone for me to get to that point."

Konwicki first became interested in speed skating when he watched Canadian skaters Charles Hamelin, Gilmore Junio and Denny Morrison compete and win medals at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"I love the technical and strategic aspect of it and most importantly the speed," said Konwicki. "I really like long track more because it's more, go out and skate your own race and you're thinking about yourself and not thinking about the others around you."

Konwicki eventually wants to move to Calgary to train with the national team in the Olympic Oval program. He has his sights set on the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island and due to the face he was born in October he is also eligible to compete in the 2027 Canada Winter Games. The cutoff birthday cutoff for speed skating is July 1 and Konwicki has competed in the 12-year-old age category in the 2019-20 season, which ends with the provincial short track championships in Abbotsford, March 14-15.

Konwicki was the lone Blizzard skater at the youth long track event in Red Deer, Feb. 8-9, and won the overall 12-year-old male title in his first-ever national competition. Skating on the refrigerated outdoor oval used for the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, he won the 300m mass start, 1,500m mass start and seven-lap mass start events and also claimed gold in the 500m Olympic race.

"That was so unexpected, I didn't think I was going to place that way," he said.

All B.C. Winter Games speed skating events - short track and long track - were held indoors in the Pomeroy Sport Centre and Konwicki spoke for all the skaters when he raved about the ice conditions.

"It's kind of like beautiful," he said. "When you're outside it's a bit rigid and bumpy in places and it can be off and on. Once you're inside and you're on good ice it's smooth skating.

"There's three outdoor ovals in B.C. and it's phenomenal we have one and we actually get to train on one. I love our oval, it's amazing."

Four other Blizzard skaters - Pareesa Jones, Christopher Earl, Nolan Vansickle and Theo Clarke - raced for the 10-member Zone 8 team.

"This was the first Winter Games we've done dual-discipline, short track and long track," said Zone 8 coach Taryn Vansickle. "Usually the Winter Games are short track but because of the facility they added the long track component. Some skaters from outside the north had never seen or skated on a long track surface. It was really exciting to see how these kids did.

"Several of the (Zone 8) skaters did personal bests in every distance, even though they were not in the top bracket of skaters. They're still getting faster."

One male and one female athlete from each of the eight regions were picked for the Coast Capital Savings Leadership Bursary and Nolan Vansickle was the Cariboo-North East male athlete selected.

Morrison, a three-time Olympian who won long track medals in 2006, 2010 and 2014, was on hand to conduct a pre-competition clinic to go over some of the basics of long track with the B.C. Games skaters.

Zone 8 finished fourth in the overall medal standings with 53, winning 21 gold, 18 silver and 14 bronze. Vancouver-Coastal topped the medal count with 111.



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