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As Olympic athletes fight for the chance to compete in Sochi, a good training facility becomes crucial to their development. Milwaukee's Pettit National Ice Center is one place in the Midwest that these Olympians can turn to.
According to Pettit Executive Director Randy Dean, the facility is one of two 400-meter indoor ovals in the United States. The other is in Salt Lake City. Both are known for hosting speed skaters, but Pettit is especially noteworthy as a hub for long-track competitors.
“We work together with Salt Lake and try to prepare the athletes as best we can," Dean said.
Speed skaters Shani Davis and Brian Hansen are among some of the athletes who have been training at Pettit this year. Both were born and raised in Chicago, but Hansen currently lives in Milwaukee to accommodate his training.
"The Pettit has been huge for me," Hansen said.
Hansen has been skating at Pettit since he was 11 years old. After making several trips from Chicago over the years, he moved to Milwaukee to attend college and began training full time.
Now, the long track skater said he spends at least four hours a day at Pettit. He said the facility is ideal for him because it allows him to stay close to "what I'm comfortable with," including his family, friends and coach.
Pettit has been around for 21 years, according to Dean, and was built during the era of Olympic athletes Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen. Milwaukee had an outdoor oval before that, but it was eventually decided to transition indoors.
One of Pettit's biggest advantages is its location. The facility is at sea level, whereas athletes in Salt Lake have to deal with higher altitudes. Dean said training at a high altitude has some advantages, but many of the Olympic games, including Sochi, take place at sea level.
Pettit's training services benefit more than just the athletes. Locals who skate at Pettit have the opportunity to watch the Olympians, and Dean said it thrills them to see athletes make it to the games and onto TV screens.
“It’s a personal connection for them," he said.
Dean also said Olympic season boosts the popularity of speed skating, which brings more traffic into the facility.