MAPLEWOOD -- Long track speed skating, with its extended strides and balletic arm placement, is arguably the most elegant sport in the Olympics and one of the most demanding. And it takes demanding training, as coach/consultant Amy Peterson Peck explained to a dozen Twin Cities' youth over the holidays.
"It's 800 skate, 200 rest." Her charges protested the difficulty. Peterson Peck was unmoved. "Should be hard. So, good luck!"
The vast ice surface of Roseville's John Rose Oval was the venue for this regulated physical torture on a bitter cold Minnesota evening in December. Still, it warms the hearts of the talented teens to have advice from one of Minnesota's and America's best speed skaters ever. Peterson Peck stood on one corner of the frozen track and explained.
"They have to do intervals, and the idea of it is to hit certain pace so they get to feel, like a feel for what that pace is like."
The straining young men and women of the Midway Speedskating Club know that Peterson Peck has been where they dream of going: the Olympics. She laughs, "But they obviously have been doing this workout wrong. (They) didn't quite grasp the concept."
Although Peterson Peck trains long track skaters, her own specialty was the rough and tumble short track. It is a pack-style mad dash around a much smaller indoor rink, not an event for the feint of heart.
Peck was simply "Amy Peterson" of Maplewood, Minnesota when she skated in five Olympics beginning with Calgary in 1988, Albertville in '92, Lillehammer in '94, Nagano in '98 and finally, Salt Lake City in 2002. She mounted the medal podium three times, but she will tell anyone that there is one moment that stands out above all else in her long Olympic career.
"(It was) carrying the flag in the Opening Ceremonies in Salt Lake City in 2002. You can train hard to become better and better in sport and to be the best athlete, but you can't train to be chosen to carry the flag in the Opening Ceremonies."
It was an honor bestowed by her fellow Olympians; a recognition of her graciousness and her place in American speed skating history. It is a tradition of excellence and endurance that goes back generations in Minnesota. After all, Amy Peterson rose from a place and a family where so many have trained so hard.
Like countless Minnesotans, the Maplewood native began skating on one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes. It was simply in her genes. Amy's mother, Joan, traces the ancestry. "It started with the Sandvigs. My brother competed in the Olympics, Gene Sandvig, and five of us, all five of us children did compete."
Joan Sandvig Peterson did more than just compete. Her dedication to the sport, both as a competitor and a supporter/official, landed her in the Speedskating Hall of Fame in 2009. Taking up their uncle and mother's mantle, Amy and her sister, Lynn, were often neck and neck toward the finish line in local and national competitions. Joan Peterson displays the pictures in her Maplewood home.
"It's been a family event over the, for many years."
Someday, there may be more photos to add. Amy is gearing up a new generation for the Sandvig/Peterson skating pantheon, but only if her children desire it. In Joan's home over the Christmas holiday, Amy helped her second son, Hudson, 1, balance on shaky legs.
"Just today, he took his first two steps."
Skating will have to wait. Hudson, after all, is just learning to walk. His older brother, Hanson, 2, seemed more inclined to that other skating sport. When his mother asked if he would like to be a speed skater, Hanson shook his head. Instead, he ran about with his new plastic hockey stick. It is all fine with Amy.
"My husband was a football, basketball player, so, who knows what they'll end up doing?"
Whatever the pint-sized Pecks choose, it probably will not be in Minnesota. When she failed to make Team USA for her sixth Olympics in Torino in 2006, Amy Peterson traded her rink fame for a family farm in upstate New York. She had met dairy farmer Bill Peck and settled in to rural Schuylerville and round-the-clock work. Bill's family has farmed the property for six generations.
"Farmers work long hours and they work seven days a week and there's no such thing as holidays 'cause cows need to be fed and milked no matter what day of the week it is."
Still, Amy Peterson's Olympic reputation is not a secret in the Empire State. It has local skating folk drooling at the possibilities. "That's the first question people ask and there's a club in Saratoga Springs, and they heard he (Hanson) has already been on skates and then, 'Oh! Well! He should join the club!' and then, (Amy responds) 'He's TWO! You know? No, he's not joining the club!'"
But there is always that genetic possibility or is it destiny? The idea of a new generation of Sandvig/Peterson/Peck speed skaters doesn't bother her. "They'll learn how to skate and if they want to try speed skating, they can. If they like it, then that's fine and if they don't, that's good, too."
In the meantime, Amy returns to the Twin Cities several times each winter to give Hanson and Hudson some "nana-time" in Maplewood and to critique and encourage the Midway skaters at the John Rose Oval. It is welcome help from a Minnesotan who has been to speed skating's Olympic heights.