ORLANDO, Fla.- UCF doesn’t have any Olympic athletes competing in PyeongChang this year, but while checking over the rosters I found something quite unique. Ocala has become a leader in long track speedskating.
It is not surprising Florida doesn’t produce an abundance of Winter Olympic athletes, considering there is no winter here. However, the state did manage five athletes for this upcoming Olympics, three of them are long track speed skaters from Ocala, Florida.
Why on earth does Ocala produce speed skaters?
According to a report by Yahoo Sports, Renee Hildebrand is the reason. Renee started out teaching inline skating and got to be very proficient at the skills and techniques. Unfortunately, there are no Olympic medals given out for inline skating. Some of her top inline skaters made the jump to long track speedskating–which takes place on ice—with hopes of a gold medal.
Renee now has three Olympic Athletes representing the US in long track speedskating. Joey Mantia and Brittany Bowe both trained with Renee in Ocala before leaving for the Midwest to train on the ice. They both competed at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
The newest member of the trio from Ocala is Erin Jackson. Erin has only been competing in long track skating for four months. She was an 11-time inline skating World Champion, her success in that sport has translated quickly onto the ice. Erin will also be the first US African American Women to make the US Olympic speed skating team.
Ocala still doesn’t have an indoor facility to train these world class athletes. The training takes place at Skate-A-way South in Ocala, whose website promotes kids birthdays and an on-site DJ.
The Olympics start today, so be on the lookout for the Ocala led Speed Skating team.