Friday, January 30, 1998
New speedskating blade helping speed
The Canadian team began the move to using clap-skates at the end of the 1997 season -- a concept designed 70 years ago and improved technically last summer -- and by September all the Canadian long-track speed skaters had pulled them on.
Veteran Susan Auch, a silver medallist for Canada at the 1994 Olympics and a strong contender for another at the Winter Games in Nagano, had little trouble adapting to the new blade.
"I've always been pretty adventurous with my skates, I'm always playing with them," she said. "I'm not really conservative with what I do to them."
Teammate Catriona Le May Doan of Saskatoon has improved her times dramatically and owns world records in the 500 and 1,500 metres thanks to it.
The blade design features a spring-loaded hinged toe at the front of the boot, and a plunger system at the heel.
As the skater takes a stride it allows the heel to lift from the blade -- unlike traditional skates -- lengthening the skater's stride and increase power transfer. When the boot returns to the flat position a small post fits into a support tube at the heel to provide stability.
The only confusion over the skate is its name -- it's been called the clap-skate, spelled Klap-skate, or referred to a slap-skate -- partly because of the sound it makes.
Auch said her times have improved, but not as dramatically as some other skaters.
"I had already maximized technique on the other skates, I probably went as fast as I could ever go on traditional skates," said Auch.
"With some people the improvement has been simultaneous with them getting better technically, like Catriona."
Le May Doan, the current overall long-track world sprint champion, is considered a medal contender in Nagano.
"I don't think (Catriona) ever got to her full speed on the other skates, that's why the improvement seems so dramatic," said Auch.
Auch said the new skate eliminates the toe of the blade digging into the ice, which has led to smoother strides, less resistance and faster times.
The first patent for the klap skate was taken out over 70 years ago in Europe and the blade has been known to competitors for years. But it wasn't until improvements in the stability of skate -- crucial for high-speed cornering -- were addressed in recent years that competitors embraced the klap.
Le May Doan said unlike Auch it took her several days of continuous use last summer to feel confident in the klap.
"I tried them and hated them," she said. "Corners were very unnerving."
Le May Doan believes the combination of her improvement in technique and the klap skate have both contributed to her faster times.
"I'm sure you don't skate a 37.55 on klap skates and then go and skate a 39 on old skates," Le May Doan said, adding she's been in the medals for the last three years. "I know I could jump on my old-style skates and skate fast.
"It's the evolution of the sport."
Auch said klap craze began a couple of years ago when a number of young Dutch skaters used the klap to make remarkable time jumps over athletes using traditional skates.
The main manufacturer of the blade is a Dutch company called Viking. Canadian sports equipment maker Bauer has also begun to make a blade.
It wasn't long before top skaters realized they had to adopt the blade to remain competitive and Auch said there are no elite competitors left using the old-style skate.
Purists have argued the skate shouldn't be permitted in competition.
But Canadian coach Derrick Auch, Susasn's brother and coach, said it's like the move to the aluminum shaft hockey stick or the change to a V-style technique in ski jumping from a closed position.
"I don't think the klap skate has made some people a lot better than other people," he said, adding the original thought behind the klap blade was for use on figure skates -- theoretically allowing skaters to jump higher.
"It seems to me, the same people are doing good that were doing good in other years and in any case it's a faster skate. It's what you have to do."