ITV’s Dancing on Ice skater Mark Hanretty has warned that the UK risks losing a generation of talent if they don’t reopen the rinks to elite skaters.
A plan to open ice rinks on August 1 was postponed the day before after an increase in coronavirus infections.
Hanretty said there were “great concerns” that the sport could lose people, as most professionals train on public rinks.
Boris Johnson has postponed the reopening of the rinks for two weeks, and has classified them as “higher risk areas”.
“Until August 15 in the first casinos, bowling alleys, ice rinks and other close contact services must remain closed,” he said.
‘We are losing a generation’
But while none of those other closings hurt Team GB’s future Olympic hopes, the continued closure of the rinks potentially does.
Since rinks aren’t something even the wealthiest athletes can have at home, many skaters – including those at the top of the sport – regularly train on public rinks.
In some cases, they make special arrangements to use the rinks before or after they open to the public.
But these sessions are not available when the rinks are closed to everyone, without exception.
Hanretty said this meant the UK risked falling behind other countries at the elite level, and any further delay could jeopardize the country’s chances at the World Championships next year.
Hanretty himself won two bronze medals as a pairs skater at the British Championships and competed in the European and World Championships, before being selected to join the Dancing On Ice team as one professional skaters from the show.
He and his wife Kathy are also ice skating coaches and he said, “Like many coaches across the country, we try to go out of our way to keep the skaters moving. We have been without an ice rink for five months now.
“For competitive elite skaters, it really separates us from the rest of the world now. If we wait until September to be able to train, it will be difficult for all of the UK’s elite competitors to compete. We are losing a generation. . ”
The sentiment was echoed on social media, with the hashtag #OverlookedOlympicSport shared by figure skaters online.
British Ice Skating, the national governing body for ice skating in the UK, said the postponement “has disappointed not only UK ice skating, but everyone due to reopen this weekend”.
Zoe Briggs is one of those competitors who struggles to be unable to skate.
“I get up at 4 am to train every morning, and I train after school from 4 pm to 8 pm,” the 14-year-old told the BBC. “This is what I grew up on for years. It’s so different not to do that, it’s so difficult. ”
Zoe said she continues to train through Zoom, but it may help at her level.
“It’s worrying because skating is all about muscle memory, allowing you to jump and glide on the ice. I’m worried that this will take away muscle memory.
“I have worked a lot on my fitness, stamina and flexibility, and we have Zoom meetings with our coaches for hours every day to try to keep up.
“But it really affected me mentally. We were told we could go back in July, but that was pushed back and now we don’t know. When I heard the news, I cried for hours because I just wanted to have it on the skate. ”
John Hamer is a three-time British figure skater and a skating coach in London. He explained that the rinks that remained closed had a lasting impact on more than just the students.
“Most of the coaches are self-employed,” he said. “And financially, it was not easy, to say the least. I had to ask my father for money.
“I lost five or six people who I know are definitely not coming back – one of them was very competitive. They were there two, three, four times a week for several lessons. This is probably a good 20-25% of my competitive activity that I know will not return. ”
He said there was “no reason” for the rinks to remain closed to athletes, especially when other venues such as swimming pools have been reopened.
“I don’t think the government realizes how important ice skating is to the nation,” he said. “It’s like the country’s little-known sport. ”
He added: “Honestly, I don’t think you can find a safer sports site. If they don’t get us back quickly, there will be a generation of potential young Olympians that we will have missed. “