News and background stories

Aussies on ice: Daniel Greig

If you thought Australian speed skating is and has always been all about Colin Coates, you’ve either been living under a rock or you need to think again. With the help and support of Desly Hill, former inline skaters Daniel Greig and Joshua Lose successfully switched to long track speed skating a couple of years ago, and now slowly but surely seem to be making their way to the top. Where Greig looks back on an impressive World Sprints in Heerenveen last January with several national records, Lose made a name for himself with his tenth-place finish in the 5000m at the World Single Distances Championships in Inzell last March. So how did these two Australians end up training for actual skating on actual ice, how successful were they as inliners and what terrible accident almost ended Lose’s career? Read all about this and more in this three-part story on Australian speed skating. In this first part, Daniel Greig will be the main focus, Joshua Lose will be featured in part 2, and for part 3 Speedskating-online talked to Desly Hill, their coach.

By Jolanda Abbes

Daniel, you successfully switched from inline to speed skating. What would you consider to be the highlight of your career before you made this switch? 
“Probably being junior world champion for inline speed skating in the distance of 200m TT. I was champion two years in a row in 2007 in Cali, Colombia and in 2008 in Gijon, Spain. The second time I won was by a considerable margin, ~0.3 of a second, which over 200m is huge.”

How does an Australian end up being a speed skater training in Heerenveen, and why did you switch from a successful inlining career to speed skating?
“After the Inline World Championships in Gijon 2008, inline speed skating looked like that it wasn't going to be able to make it into the Olympics. And even after being junior world champion two years in a row, I would receive no support from our government to continue because it was not an Olympic sport. Also one of my largest dreams is to compete in an Olympic Games, so my coach and I decided that I would give ice skating a try, even if it meant I had to learn everything over if only to realise that dream. Our goal was always Sochi 2014, qualifying for Vancouver 2010 was just a bonus, but I never got to compete anyway. The reason for Heerenveen was because Desly, my coach, is and was the national coach for the Dutch inline team, the only time I had trained fulltime under her before was 2007, my whole 2008 season she coached me online while a close friend of hers supervised my training in Australia.”

Can you elaborate somewhat on Desly Hill’s importance for your speed skating career?
“Desly is the whole reason I am in inline or ice skating. Without Desly I doubt any of my success could have happened. She convinced me to start training hard for inline and I became junior world champion. And now she believes that I can also succeed at ice skating. I have no reason to doubt her, I can give you a million reasons why Desly is a fantastic coach, but then I might give away some of the secrets to her success... She is just as determined if not more so than I am, and I can't imagine what my sporting career would be without her support.”

What would you consider to be your and Joshua’s strengths and weaknesses as speed skaters?
“Both Josh and I are extremely hard workers and extremely focused, especially when it comes to training. You can ask anyone around Heerenveen about how we train, everyone sees that our training regime is not for the weak of will. Also, when it comes to competitions we have good mental preparation and we know what it takes to be successful from our years in inline skating, skills which are the same no matter what sport you are in. Beyond that I have a particular physical talent for being explosive, which is why I am a sprinter, and Josh has a particular talent for never letting the lactic pain of a long race slow him down. My weakness is long distances and Josh's weakness is trying to be explosive (the opposites). A strength that both of us have from inline skating is being able to skate smooth efficient turns on the long track. A weakness is that technically we are still very inexperienced as we have only skated just under three whole seasons on ice, so it takes a lot more energy to skate comfortably on ice than born long track skaters. But in time we will learn and our results will show that.”

Which speed skater(s) do you look up to and would you consider to be your role model(s)?
“Joey Cheek, because he has an inline skating background and he became an Olympic gold medalist. His technique is so smooth yet powerful, I can just watch his races in Torino over and over. Most people say that inline crossovers have messy technique and because of that can't do well in sprints, but he proves that wrong.”

How do you look back on the past season, and what would you consider to be the greatest highlight and biggest disappointment?
“Changing sports is not easy on the body, the different angles and tensions on my tendons and ligaments form inline skating to ice skating were bound to catch up with me sometime during my crossover. It just happened during the past season, so I have had to endure a lot of physical pain and frustration with my body, especially with the tendons around my knees. I had bad tendon irritations in my right knee at the start of the season, so my greatest highlight was being able to overcome them in time to skate well at the World Sprint Championships and the World Cup in Moscow. But my greatest disappointment was when the tendon pains arose in my left knee only three weeks before the World Single Distances, which prevented me from being able to show my skill in Inzell. I skated with pain killers in Inzell but that only substituted less pain with incoordination.”

How do you look back on World Sprints?
“World Sprints was a good confirmation for me about my pursuit of success in this sport. All through my rehabilitation for my right knee I was working very hard to improve my technique for ice skating. I was glad to see that once my body began to catch up that all my hard work translated to more speed. I definitely don't see it as a peak, but merely a taste of what is to come. The highlight was definitely the first 1000m in which I placed 12th, although it was not a national record.”

Can you give a full analysis of your best race at World Sprints?
“That would be the first 1000m. The start was my best of the season, it showed a little of my true colours as a 200m champion on inline. 16.64, the 6th fastest of that event. I had been working hard on my first corner in training and it went very well in the race. My only other concern was the top speed I could reach in the first lap. I needed to make my corners smooth and powerful and hold the correct timing for my pushes on the straights. I did this fairly well, with the exception of a too early apex into a couple of the corners, which lost me some speed. I am never worried about the last lap because I know the adrenalin will get me to the finish line. It was still my best race, but there are always many things that I know I can improve on.”

How do you look back on the World Single Distances Championships?
“To be honest, if I had known how badly Inzell would go for me, I would have never used pain killers to train for it in the weeks leading up and in the races. I would have just skipped it to let my body repair itself for the next season. Two days after I arrived in Inzell, I crashed in training and hit my head. I got stitches. Later when Desly arrived, my coordination was terrible, probably a combination of crashing, hitting my head and painkillers for my knee. But the day before the races I thought that I was skating pretty well, but I could not take that to the starting line. Everybody has bad races, I recognise that I need to learn how to lose before I can win. So I just look back on it as experience for the future. A crash in the 500m on my birthday was not the best present in the world, but I was proud of myself for even qualifying.”

How do you look forward to the upcoming season, what will be important things for you to focus on?
“The most important thing for me to focus on this season is my technique. After spending a lot of time with physiotherapists in Australia, it is apparent that my body still has a little way to go before I can reach my full physical potential on ice. So while I will lessen my training load to avoid the problems I had last season, I will be looking at other areas where I can improve even more, such a technique, to make me a faster more consistent ice skater. I plan on skating every World Cup for sprint distances this season and the championships. The goal is Sochi, but I expect to do well this season nonetheless.”

And how do you look forward to the next couple of years, towards Sochi 2014?
“ I expect that I will be able to build my results up until Sochi, if I go for too much too early, then in the long run it might hurt my chances for a long speed skating career. No matter what though, I love the skating and I love the travelling. It is more important to enjoy the hard work towards Sochi rather than focus on results..”

Photo credits:
Photo 1, 3 and 4: DESGphoto/Lars Hagen
Photo 2: Daniel Yeow