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COVID-19 Pandemic Impacting Olympic Hopefuls

Utah's Olympic Oval in Kearns. (KSL-TV)

KEARNS, Utah – The COVID-19 pandemic is already having an impact on those hoping to make the 2022 Winter Olympics after the U.S. Long Track Speedskating National Championships in Kearns were called off after several athletes had to quarantine.

Utah’s Olympic Oval was certainly ready. The ice is about as good as ever thanks to a brand new million-dollar refrigeration plant.

“When you’re talking about ice quality, we’ve learned so much and I think we’re in a better place than we were in ’02,” said Derek Parra, who works at the Oval.

Even the roof is in better shape than it has been in years past.

“Just this past summer, we’ve got every leak fixed,” said Parra. “We sealed the roof.”

However, the one thing that couldn’t be fixed is everything going on outside.

“COVID-19 has affected sports around the world, and speedskating here in Utah has been no exception,” said Parra.


U.S. Speedskating postponed this weekend’s national championships at the 2002 venue on Thursday after COVID-19 testing of athletes forced nearly 50 speedskaters to quarantine.

“It’s in the best interest of the athletes,” said Parra. “Since the beginning, everything we have done is to keep athletes, staff and workers safe.”

Parra, who won gold and silver medals in Salt Lake during the 2002 Olympics, said this event was planned for this weekend because on the same weekend next year, U.S. team trials will be held for skaters to try and make the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

This weekend was a chance to see their competitive times and if their training needed tweaking.

“If you’re an athlete, and you’re looking at a four-year plan, you want to make tweaks every year and hopefully, the year prior to the games, you have great success around this time of year,” said Parra. “If you had success, you can kind of duplicate that blueprint for the next year so you can hopefully peak again for the Olympics.”

This weekend’s event was also set to be shown nationally on NBCSN. It was an opportunity to showcase the sport and the athletes who would’ve been competing.

“As a speedskater, I can tell you there weren’t very many times in my career what speedskating was on TV, other than during the Games,” said Parra. “This would’ve been great for the athletes to kind of let the country know who they are and who to look forward to for Beijing.”

“It’s just too bad they couldn’t pull it off, but they certainly made the right decision,” said Jeff Robbins, president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.

Robbins said although many sporting events in the state have been postponed or canceled because of COVID-19, Utah has had success hosting them without spreading the virus.

“This would’ve been our ninth event since May, and I don’t think anywhere else in the nation outside of the bubble you saw with the NBA and MLS and some of those groups (can say that). That’s pretty significant,” said Robbins. “You have to be incredibly disciplined in how you host these events with containment, mitigation and isolation plans.”

For the speedskating championships planned for this weekend, though, the team figured it was best to follow protocols and postpone.

Not even Olympic dreams are more important than staying healthy.

“We do not want this to be a superspreader venue for COVID-19,” said Parra. “It’s just a hiccup. We still have a year to go to Beijing.”

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