Speed Skating With an Olympic Athlete

Putting on a speed skating suit is sort of like squeezing a glove over a foot. It's not an easy task, and it sure doesn't feel natural.

I'm sure it gets simpler with some practice, but when I was handed a suit and told to be careful because they rip easily... well let's just say that didn't make it any less problematic.

Then came the skates. I have never been comfortable -- competent maybe, but not comfortable -- on ice skates. But these skates were long and sharper than anything I had ever worn before.

So why go through all this hassle? I had come to Kearns, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City, to experience what is lovingly called "The Fastest Ice on Earth."

VIDEO: Olympiad Nich Pearson gives a lesson on how to speedskate.
Speedskating 101 on the Olympic Oval

The Utah Olympic Oval was the site of the speed skating events in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Thanks to Utah's high elevation there is less air resistance at this track than any other in the world except Calgary, Canada, home of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

To date, every single world speed skating record was set at Calgary or Salt Lake, with Salt Lake the site of the most records, making it the fastest place to skate on the planet. Vancouver's skating oval is at sea level, so don't expect any new world records to be set at this year's Olympics.

Video: Bobsleding 101 in Park City, Utah.

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To show me the ropes, Olympic speed skater Nick Pearson took some time out of his training schedule to lace up his skates with me.

"Speed skating is a sport that, if you watch it on TV, it's hard to actually see how fast we are going," said Pearson, 30. "For a sprinter, which is a 500-meter and a 1,000-meter skater, the guys get up to 40 miles an hour."

Winter Olympic Cities Through the Years

Of course, even with Pearson's expert tutelage I wouldn't be going that fast.

Learning to Speed Skate with an Olympian

In the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, Pearson finished 6th in the 1,000 meter and the 1,500 meter events. The Vancouver games are his second trip to the Olympics and his last.

"My last meet actually," he said. "I'm retiring after that. Kind of a bittersweet feeling, but exciting and hopefully I can come home on the podium."

Pearson has been skating since he was 5, growing up in Wisconsin. His father skated and encouraged him to try it out.

"They used to flood the baseball fields for him. His friends were part of a speed skating club," Pearson said. "When I was younger, he got me into it, took me to the Wisconsin Olympic rink and I've been skating ever since."

There are two things beginner speed skaters need to know, Pearson said: you want to sit low and push to the side.

"You want to stay back, you want to feel it in your butt, almost like you are sitting in a chair," he advised me.

I just wanted to stay balanced on my skates.

The special suits we were wearing helped cut through the wind… well, they would have, if I was skating a bit faster.

Aerodynamics are taken very seriously in this sport where races are won and lost in thousandths of a second.

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