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Marathon speedskating championships: Skaters coming to Lake Bemidji

Organizers are getting ready and the ice is nearly set.

This weekend on Lake Bemidji, speedskaters and spectators will gather for the U.S. Speedskating National Marathon Championships and the North American Marathon Speedskating Championships.

The championships, which will run simultaneously, each will include a 25 kilometer marathon and a 50 K marathon on an oval on Lake Bemidji. The 25 K races will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and the 50 K races will begin at 9 a.m. Sunday.

Also, citizens' races will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday on the oval. The races will be half-kilometer, 1 K and 2 K.

Despite recent rain, the ice will be ready for the weekend, according to Dave Cermak of Bemidji, who is organizing the event with his wife and former Olympic speedskater, Chantal.

"The ice became a challenge because of the rain," he said, explaining that the rain ice didn't adhere to the lake ice.

This week, Cermak is working to shave about 2 inches of ice off the oval with an ice resurfacer and plans to flood the oval before the weekend to make the best ice possible.

"The ice is great," he noted. "Actually, the ice is probably the best it's ever been."

Organizers also made a new road on the lake to allow people to access the oval after another road was damaged by the rain and warmer temperatures.

The U.S. Speedskating National Marathon Championships made its Bemidji debut last February with about 40 speedskaters competing from across the United States, Canada and the Netherlands.

This year, Cermak expects fewer speedskaters to compete due to the cost of travel and because another marathon event is scheduled this weekend at the Silver Skate Festival in Edmundton, Alberta, Canada.

He said speedskaters participating here will include former Olympians and probably Olympic hopefuls.

He added that the Bemidji venue, including the ice on Lake Bemidji and the community support, impressed speedskaters last year.

"They said it was one of the best marathons they've ever heard of," Cermak said.

He noted that the lake ice is very fast - much faster than arena ice.

While the lake oval will serve as the site of the two marathons, Cermak said the greater purpose of the oval is to give community members a place to skate. The public is welcome to skate on the oval anytime.

"More and more people are actually skating out there," Cermak said.

The public is also welcome to watch the marathons. There is no cost to attend. The 25 K races are expected to last 45-60 minutes and the 50 K races are expected to last 90-105 minutes.

"It's a fun sport to watch," Cermak said.

After each race, the public is welcome to skate on the oval. The public also is welcome to join in the festivities. There will be skating, music, and a bonfire both Friday and Saturday evenings at the oval.

Meanwhile, organizers are seeking volunteers to count laps. Those interested should call Chantal Cermak at 444-3884 and plan to arrive a half hour before the marathons.

People can still sign up to compete in the marathons. For details, call Chantal Cermak.

Also, call her for more details about participating in the citizens' races. People of all ages are welcome to skate.

Organizers request that snowmobilers avoid snowmobiling at the oval this weekend.