Kelowna's Jesse Keca won the national junior women's speed skating title last weekend in Montreal.

Keca strikes national gold

You might call Jesse Keca a ground breaker—or perhaps an icebreaker—for the sport of speed skating in Kelowna.

The Grade 10 student from Okanagan Mission Secondary is the first member of the Kelowna Speed Skating Club ever to win a national title.

Keca, 16, won the overall gold medal in the junior girls B division (15-16 years) at the Canadian Age Class short track speed skating championships last weekend in Montreal.

Keca took top spot in both the 500 and 1,500 metre events, while adding a silver in the 3000m points race to place first overall.

The medals were the result of countless hours of training for Keca, who was accompanied to nationals last week by her dad, Nik.

“It really means a lot to me,” said Keca, who is enjoying a family vacation this week in Ontario. “It was pretty exciting to have dad their with me, he’s been so supportive. Seeing all the hard work I’ve put into it pay off was really nice, too.”

Keca, who is also a midget rep hockey player in Kelowna, has shown consistent improvement since taking up speed skating five years ago.

Okanagan Regional Training Centre coach Nancy Goplen said the national short track medals were significant accomplishments for both Keca and the local club.

“While we have national calibre long track skaters such as Keara Maguire, Alison Banwell and Nicholas Goplen, a win at the national short track level indicates the depth and strength of our club program and the Okanagan Regional Training Centre,” said Goplen. “Over the past season, Jesse has demonstrated the physical and mental skills to take her to the highest level.  Like our long track specialists, Jesse will be a leader and inspiration to other club members. No doubt, we will hear more from Jesse and our other club skaters.”

Keca established herself as an up-and-comer on the national scene earlier this season at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax where she finished in sixth place.

Only 15 at time of the competition, Keca was competing in the U19 division and was the youngest skater to crack the top 10.

As for her long-term future in the sport and potential national and international events, Keca prefers not to look too far ahead.

“I can see myself wanting to compete at a high level in the future, but right now I’m trying not to think too much about the results,” she said. “I’m just trying to enjoy this and hopefully I’ll keep improving.”

As for other Kelowna skaters, Keara Maguire and Nick Goplen finished their respective long track seasons at the Canada Cup Finale in Calgary last  weekend.  Keara sixth in the 3000m setting a new personal best  by nearly four seconds with a time 4:17.60

In the 5000m, she was fifth overall with a new time of 7:23.16 (old time 7:25.44).  Goplen placed 29th in the 500m in a field of 84 with a new time of 38.08 (old time 38.28), 20th in the 1000m in a field of 70 with a new time of 1:14.27 (old time 1:15.01) and 18th in the 1500m in a field of 84 with a new time of 1:52.96 (old time 1:53.59). Both skaters will take a few weeks off before resuming their dry land training.

Locally, Chris Neykov and Emilie Medland-Marchen will compete this weekend in the Canada West Short Track Championship at the Capital News Centre.

The two skaters finished second and third at the B.C. Short Track Championships to earn the right to represent the province.

Admission is free with racing between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. both on Saturday and Sunday.

whenderson@kelownacapnews.com