Sprinter set to go the distance

By Jared Smith, jared.smith@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

To her speed skating opponents, Wanganui's Jessica van Bentum has always been dangerous from close range - but now she wants to go the distance.

The 16-year-old has been a member of the Wanganui Speed Skating Club since the age of 8 and spent her Friday collecting a brace of silver medals at the New Zealand Speed Skating Road Championships, at Memorial Park in Palmerston North.

Her sights are now firmly on the Track Championships component, which starts at Jubilee Stadium today.

"Hopefully I'll have the advantage on the others because I train on that track every week," van Bentum said. "Hopefully, a title would be great.

"We're producing great skaters and having great results, especially with our little skaters."

While the younger grades like juvenile division have an aggregate trophy which carries over both the Palmerston North and Wanganui events, the older grades receive their medals per individual race.

For van Bentum, she has been coached to be a sprinter, which are her focus events. Entering the longer distance races is a way to have some fun and perhaps do well if luck runs her way.

"You try to medal in the best ones you have a shot at," van Bentum said.

However, in warm conditions at Memorial Park yesterday, van Bentum found herself exceeding expectations on the former cycling track which has been converted to skating purposes.

At the time of her interview she had just qualified for the 5000m final and had picked up a bronze in the 300m time trial.

"I usually do well in the sprints and it's good to see I can be a contender in this too," she said.

These came on top of her three silvers in various events.

"I'm really happy with how I did in the two open races," she said.

Two of those medals were against both adults and her fellow teenagers, with the other silver coming in her specific Intermediate grade.

She will hope to convert at least one of those into a gold this weekend, explaining how competitors make the adjustment from outside on concrete to indoors on hard wood.

"Technique is a big thing. If you have a good technique you do better indoors," van Bentum said.

"If you wear the wrong set of wheels it can have a massive effect on how you perform."

Ideally, "grippy" wheels will suit the task, depending on the specific floor.

"You don't want to be sliding around, whereas outdoors it doesn't have a massive part to play," the 16-year-old said.

The New Zealand Oceania Junior U19 team veteran is a previous 1500m Intermediate Indoor national champion and 1000m Intermediate banked track champion.

Wanganui is hosting the New Zealand Speed Skating Track Championships for the first time in six years, with competition concluding on Monday. About 100 skaters from eight New Zealand clubs, three Slovakians and one German skater are entered.

van Bentum is joined by fellow Wanganui contenders Melissa Whyte, Rebecca Smith and Nicole Travers in looking to head off women's grade headliner Steff Challis (Valley Inline) and fellow world championship-level competitor Emily Van der Hayden.

Warm-ups at Jubilee Stadium start at 8am, with the opening ceremony an hour later.

Competition begins at 10am.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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