Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Olympic speed skater visits Barnum students

 

Olympic speed skater Anna Ringsred demonstrates the starting position for students Madisen Warnygora and Conner McNulty who were modeling skin suits.

Fifth-grade students at Barnum Elementary School learned about competing in the Olympics from Olympic speed skater Anna Ringsred on Wednesday, April 16. Ringsred, 29, accepted an invitation to speak to the class after receiving a letter from Kalee Hartman, a Barnum fifth-grade student.

"We had been following the Olympics," said teacher Rita Johnson. "We asked Kalee to write a letter and ask her to come and talk to the class."

Ringsred answered the request after she returned to her home town of Duluth.

This was the first appearance of Ringsred in the Olympics. She had failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2010 and took a break. Her dream came true when she qualified for the 2014 Olympics.

"I tried and tried, and I made it," she told the class. "You can fall down. A lot of people get scared by that. You have to learn how to overcome that, especially when you are doing something that you really care about."

Ringsred told the class she is a chemical engineer, and had to face challenges in pursuing her career choice.

"I had to work at it," she said. "The more that I worked at it, the easier it became. I chose chemical engineering because it was the hardest. I like challenges. You can fall on your face but when you are done you can look at it and be kind of proud of yourself. You might fall but you need to pick yourself right back up again. Those are the kinds of things that are important."

Ringsred told the class about the history of the Olympics, and that the first six games were cross country, figure skating, hockey, ski jumping, speed skating and Nordic combined, a combination of cross country and ski jumping.

"Not many people do Nordic combined anymore," she said. "Speed skating is track and field on ice. It originated in Holland and Norway in the 16th century. Skaters skated on bones tied to their boots and skated on the frozen canals. That was their transportation.

"Later they used metal blades and developed speed skating like we have today.

"This year, the Netherlands got pretty much all of the medals. Their speed skaters are like celebrities over there, and they get lots of money. They do well."

Ringsred showed the class the skates they wear in competition, and explained they are made from molds of the skaters' feet.

She also brought two "skin suits" the skaters wear and asked two volunteers to model the suits. She said the sharp blades and long length of the skate blades, as well as the skin suits, give the skaters the extra edge in aerodynamics.

The women skaters participate in five events, from a 500 meter race to a 5,000 meter race. Ringsred said her favorite was the 1,500 meter race.

Ringsred didn't win any medals in the Olympics. She finished second in the 3,000 meter at U.S. Olympic Trials to earn her the spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

But for her, the experience of being on the team and participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, was a highlight in her speed skating career and life.

Ringsred showed photos taken from her balcony in the Olympic Village, an area that is off limits to everyone but the athletes. Visitors must get special permission to enter the village, she said.

"My parents came to the Olympics but they were only allowed into the village one time," she said.

Ringsred and a roommate shared an apartment. One of the photos showed the bright colored lights that beamed on the walls of the village at night. There were different colors for the different countries.

"It was quite spectacular," said Ringsred.

"We had tons of food, including from McDonald's, and Russian food. Everything was free, including the food from the vending machines. They gave us bikes so we could get around.

"There was also a village in the mountains for the ski sports. There were lots of volunteers, and they were all so happy to help us."

Ringsred said she had the special honor of walking into the arena during the opening ceremonies next to the flag bearer.

"That was really exciting," she said. "That was one of the best experiences of my life.

"By the time we walked in the closing ceremonies I and my teammates were pretty tired. But it was fun to be there. The closing ceremonies were enormous to us on the ground level."

The students asked many questions. In answer to one question, Ringsred said she did not get to meet many of the other Olympians from Duluth.

"The hockey team traveled around together, but I did get to meet one of them," she said.

When asked if she had seen Shaun White, the Olympic skateboarding champion, she said she had seen him in the cafeteria one day and he agreed to a picture with her.

"I met a lot of other Minnesota athletes," she added. "But we were training four to six hours a day. I wasn't really sore, but I was exhausted. I only had one shot, I had to give it everything I had."

In answer to a question about a reunion of the Sochi Olympic athletes, Ringsred said there was a sort of a reunion when she and the other athletes went to Washington to meet President Obama.

"We hope to meet again," she said. "We made a lot of good friends."

 

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