Here's The Local Roller Rink Where Speedskating Olympians Got Their Start

Feb 18, 2014

At the winter Olympics in Sochi, the U.S. has collected no medals so far in speedskating, an uncharacteristic result. The Americans' best remaining hope for hardware rests with short track speedskater J.R. Celski and the men's relay team.

Celski began his career at a skating rink in Federal Way, Wash., the same one where his former speedskating idol Apolo Ohno started. But it's a roller rink, not an ice-skating rink, a place where Olympians are born and which they later have to leave to achieve their Olympic dreams.

Called Pattison's West, the rollerskating center has the requisite colored lights, music and disco ball shimmering over an expansive hardwood floor. But the pedigree of its rollerblade racing team separates this place from other Northwest roller rinks.

"That's J.R., who started skating for me when he was 3 years old," said rink owner and coach Mike Pattison as he pointed to an autographed picture of J.R. Celski, the top medal hopeful on this year's U.S. Olympic short track speedskating team.

Next to the current Olympian on Pattison's office wall is a mounted, autographed Sports Illustrated cover Apolo Ohno, a three-time Olympian.

"I remember Apolo," Pattison said. "He wanted on the team really bad."

Ohno raced for five years on Pattison's speed team. Celski stuck with it for nine years. In fact, nearly the entire U.S. Olympic short track ice speedskating team in Sochi started their careers on rollerblades — or, as they call it, inline racing.

Why Inline Racers Switch To Ice Skating

At the Winter Games, U.S. speedskater Jessica Smith explained why a 16-time inline national champion like herself would switch to ice.

"Unfortunately, the sport of inline speed skating is not in the Olympics in the Summer Games," Smith said. "So yeah, I made the switch into short track speedskating to follow my dream of becoming an Olympian. And here I am today, in Sochi."

For his part, Ohno caught the Olympic bug watching the 1994 Winter Games on TV. Then Celski watched Ohno in action at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and decided he wanted to do that, too. Now at Pattison's Federal Way skating rink, it's happening again.

"J.R. and Apolo came from here," said 10-year-old Julian Rimbey. "I want to be in the Olympics, because they are my inspiration, too."

Julian says he wants to start ice speedskating lessons next season: "I think it's going to be a little hard at first, but I think I'll get the hang of it."

Watching the young rollerbladers practice their starts and zip around an oval marked with cones, you immediately notice how similar speed skating on ice and on hardwood looks.

But not everyone here is ready to throw away wheels in favor of blades, not by any means. Autumn Herman and Sidra Reich, both 9, explain.

"Ice skating is way cold; roller skating not so cold," Autumn said.

"I've tried ice skating. I don't think it is as fun, because when you fall, you get really cold," Sidra said. "Sometimes if somebody falls over you, they'll hit the blade on you."

A coach for an ice speedskating club in Bellingham says he expects a surge in newcomers generated by the Winter Olympics.

"We'll end up with about a 20 percent bump in participation," predicts the Whatcom Speed Skating Club's Jed Clark.

Pattison says he's sorry to see racers defect to the ice rink, but doesn't begrudge them for following their Olympic dreams.

Parent Paul Rimbey says a perfect solution would be to get inline speed skating into the Summer Olympics. 

"I mean, you have some other sports in the Olympics that you would think by watching those other sports — I don't want to say [which] other sports, 'Why wouldn't we make it?"' he said.

A related event, roller hockey, was included as a demonstration sport at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, but no roller sports have even made the short list for consideration since then.