Neighbors of the massive Olympic speed-skating oval braved bad weather and dozens of screaming children on skates Friday during opening day at the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center facility.
The $4.1 million oval, which will be used for speed-skating during the 2002 Winter Games, won't have ice until after Thanksgiving. Eager skaters willing to trade their blades for wheels can use the track through mid-October.Weather permitting, of course. Bruce McFarland brought five of his six daughters across the street to the concrete oval and managed to skate around once before nearby lightning strikes temporarily forced everyone off the track.
McFarland said his daughters received ice skates for Christmas last year in anticipation of the oval opening during the winter. But a combination of a cold winter and a wet spring delayed completion until now.
So, the McFarlands did what any good parents would do - they bought in-line roller skates earlier this summer so their daughters would be ready when the oval opened for roller skating. And McFarland even bought a pair for himself.
"When we got all the kids Rollerblades, they said, `Daddy, you need some so you can go with us,' " McFarland explained as he expertly balanced both himself and his youngest daughter, Katie, 7, on skates.
The family has been practicing their in-line skating technique on the street, admittedly not the safest place. McFarland said he's glad his children, ages 7 to 16, are going to be able to walk over to the oval to skate.
"Now they have a place to go instead of buzzing up and down the street and not really watching for cars backing out of driveways," he said. "When they're bored, we can just say, `Go to to oval.' "
Despite all their preparations, the McFarlands and other skaters couldn't spend much time on the oval Friday afternoon because the lightning was too threatening, fitness center officials determined.
Tony Gallegos, 29, was luckier. He arrived before the storm and managed well over an hour of skating on his month-old pair of in-line skates. "Smooth - like oil on glass" is how he described the concrete surface.
Gallegos, who lives nearby with his wife and two sons, said he has waited a long time for the oval to be ready. "I've been calling about every week," he said during a brief break.
He said he and his wife plan to skate regularly on the oval to stay in shape for snowboarding - and to perfect his skating skills, learned as a youngster growing up in Tooele "where there was nothing to do but skate."
There were plenty of kids on the oval, too, including 8-year-old Stacey Naegle. She squirmed when a reporter tried to ask her about skating before she got a chance to try out the track.
But after one very quick skate around the 400-meter track, she beamed. "It was fun," she said. Better than skating on sidewalks? Not only is the track faster, she said, but "you have a lot more room."
The oval, 5624 S. 4800 West, will be open free of charge from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through the holiday weekend.
Beginning Tuesday, it will be open weekdays from 2 to 9 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The cost to skate is $1 for students 18 and younger and $2 for adults. Skaters must bring their own in-line skates or rent them elsewhere as rental skates will not be available from the fitness center.
The in-line skating season is expected to last through Oct. 15. Ice for speed-skating should be ready Nov. 24, with a grand opening scheduled for Dec. 9.
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