Women In Sport Week: High Performance

To mark Women In Sport Week (6-12 March), the Ice Skating Association of Ireland asked the women who make ice skating happen in Ireland a series of questions to hear about the challenges and unique culture of the sport within the country.

Today we focus on Laura Hegarty and Sophia Tkacheva, two members of the figure skating national team who represent Ireland internationally in competitions. Hegarty, along with her brother Kevin Hegarty, competes in ice dance, while Tkacheva particpates  in singles skating.

What inspired you to get involved in ice skating, and how has the sport influenced your life?

Hegarty: Ice skating has been a part of my life since childhood. The sport has allowed me to travel abroad through competitions and training, expanding my understanding of other athletes and their culture.

Tkacheva: I started ice skating when i was five years old and as an easily-influenced child I was watching TV one day and my parents put on the sports channel to keep me entertained. A women’s’ice skating competition came on and I was instantly mesmerised. In this very moment, I realised that this is exactly what I wanted to do and my life has never been the same since. If it wasn’t for the women ice skating on the TV screen, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to represent Ireland at countless international competitions, including the Junior Grand Prix. I wouldn’t have had the experiences and discipline that only comes from figure skating and I wouldn’t have learned the significant life lessons that come with this incredible sport. I started ice skating because of the influence of women in this sport and almost 12 years later I’m skating like I wanted to when I was five.

Women in sport have historically faced barriers to participation and recognition. Have you experienced any challenges or obstacles in ice skating in Ireland because of your gender?

Hegarty: I haven’t felt any restrictions either in training or in competitions. Gladly, it’s an easily accessible sport to any sex. Unlike sports like football or rugby, the “field” (rink) isn’t separated by gender.

Tkacheva: As a woman in ice skating in Ireland, I’ve experienced both obstacles and challenges in my career. There were times where I’ve felt that my injuries and pain weren’t taken seriously because I was labelled as “dramatic” or that I was “overreacting” and other stereotyped micro aggressions which completely dismissed me and my experiences in this sport as a whole. The lack of resources for training and practice in this country are definitely the biggest obstacle that I’ve faced in my career. The struggles that come from not being able to train for the sport that has shaped my life because of greater focus on training resources distribution to more male dominated sports is astounding. Ice skating is a sport that is underestimated and overlooked in Ireland and I as a woman in ice skating have felt the effect of this more than anything. There have also been several occasions where I, as an ice skater, have not been taken seriously and was even laughed at when I mentioned my participation in this sport.

What do you feel are the positive aspects of being a woman involved in ice skating in Ireland?

Hegarty: Statistically there are more women in the sport, and therefore, I feel a strong sense of an empowering community.

Tkacheva: There is an abundance of positive aspects of being a woman in ice skating in this country. From my experience, since it is so unusual and unheard of, this sport is greatly admired by people. It’s not a common skill, so people tend to be very impressed when they find out that I’m an ice skater. Being a woman in this sport I also feel like there is a great support circle specifically around women. At all competitions, women always help each other out in any way and it is very comforting to know that despite the difficulties of being a woman in ice skating, there will always be other women athletes supporting me.

Representation and visibility are important issues in all areas of life, including sport. What would you like to see happen in the world of ice skating to encourage more women to participate and succeed ?

Hegarty: Within Ireland I definitely believe the rate of participation from not only women, but the general public will increase with the presence of an ice rink. Globally the sport is being popularised through media. The more access people have to figure skating and its facilities, the more people will attempt it and potentially succeed.

Tkacheva: The biggest limit that is preventing women from participating and succeeding in ice skating is access to training resources, specifically in Ireland. There is simply no way for more women to participate in a sport that only seems to exist during Christmas time at small, temporary ice rinks. It is the main issue surrounding the world of ice skating in Ireland and if it is not dealt with, there is little to no chance of an increase of participation and success of women in ice skating in Ireland. This is especially discouraging, so the first course of action here would be to build an ice rink in Ireland. Something else that I would like to see happen in the world of ice skating to encourage women would be an increase in representation of women in this sport. This would lead to more support for women from all around the globe which will lead to encouragement to participate and succeed in ice skating.

O’Brien Selected For Short Track Worlds

Liam O’Brien (24) will be Ireland’s sole entrant at next week’s ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Seoul, South Korea (10-12 March).

O’Brien will not have too far to travel to the event as he trains in Seongnam City, within commuting distance from the Korean capital.

“I am excited to be representing Ireland at my third World Championships,” O’Brien said. “It feels a little different with Worlds being held only an hour away from my training base. I hope to build on my performance throughout the season and finish the season strong.”

Sean McAnuff has been selected as alternate for the championships which will be streamed live on the Skating ISU YouTube channel.



Sean McAnuff Closes Out Strong At Dresden World Cup

This weekend Sean McAnuff was the sole Irish representative at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating in Dresden, Germany where he raced over two distances.

First up for McAnuff were the 1000 metres Preliminaries where he was drawn in Heat 10. Fourth place in a time of 1:27.702 just saw him narrowly missing out on advancing to the Heats later on that morning.

McAnuff’s second event of the opening day of competition was the 500 metres Prelimaries where he again was unlucky not advance from Heat 12 after finishing third with a time of 42.669.

He was back on the second day of the World Cup for the 1000 metres Repechage Quarterfinals lining up in Heat 5. In a close tussle for third place, he was edged out and came fourth in a time of 1:28.815.

The 500 metres Repechage Quarterfinals took place on the third and final day of racing. McAnuff came close to breaking his own Irish record when he crossed the line in 42.478 for fourth place.

“Although I did not advance on to the afternoon races this weekend, I am very pleased with my improvements in racing and how I executed my race strategies,” McAnuff said. “My times were competitive and consistent, and my 500 metre time was within fractions of breaking the Irish record, that I hold. My coaches have encouraged me that I remain very much on track with their training and race plans to achieve peak performance. Back to training tomorrow!

Sean McAnuff Lines Up For Dresden World Cup

This weekend Sean McAnuff is back racing at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speeding Skating in Dresden, Germany (3-5 February).Following his successful outing at last month’s European Championships, the Irish skater races first in the qualifying rounds which will be held on Friday through to the subsequent rounds on Saturday and Sunday. This will be the first time he competes on the World Cup circuit since November 2021.“Dresden is one of my favourite cities to race in,” McAnuff said. “I have so many great memories of previous competitions here and the venue is very large and high quality! I have already spent lots of time catching up with athletes from other countries and am excited to meet new faces and continue encouraging them over race weekend.“This weekend I will compete in the 500 and 1000 metre distances and have the goal of skating new personal best times in these distances while focusing on finishing well in the rankings.”

Watch McAnuff race live on Eurosport and the ISU’s YouTube channel (geographic restrictions may apply) and follow the event via the #ShortTrackSkating hashtag on social media.

Emerald Skate Test Session

There will be an Emerald Skate Test Session on the 28th and 29th January 2023. This test session will include all Emerald Learn to Skate Levels 1-6 and all Emerald Skate FREESTYLE Levels 1-5.
There will be limited availability at this test session for members NOT enrolled in the Emerald Skate Programme to join the appropriate testing groups. Unfortunately, members NOT enrolled in the lessons will not be able to get on the ice until their test group is called and must vacate the ice once their test group is finished.
The cost of Emerald Skate LTS Levels 1-6 are €10.00. This is a set price whether a member does 1 or all 6 test levels.
Emerald Skate FREESTYLE Levels are €15.00 per level.
Please note that you must pass the previous level to be able to progress to the next test level.
It is not possible to pay or register for tests on the day. All registration and payment must be done by the 25th January. Registration or refunds will not be possible after this date for any reason.
For more information email info@isai.ie

Historic Weekend For Irish Short Track At Gdansk Euros

Sean McAnuff and Liam O’Brien took Irish short track speed skating to new heights at this weekend’s European Championships in Gdansk, Poland.

Racing at the Hala Olivia arena began on Friday with the qualification rounds. O’Brien lined up in Heat 3 of the 1500 metres quarterfinals in which he finished fourth in a time of 2:26.961. McAnuff appeared in Heat 7 and placed sixth with a time of 2:27.128. Both would have a second shot in the repechage the following day.

McAnuff took to the ice next in Heat 1 of the 500 metres heats. He fought hard in what was a tough race originally crossing the line in third. However, an athlete ahead of him was disqualified and McAnuff’s result was revised giving him second place and an automatic berth in Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinals. This was a first for an Irish skater at a European Championships. In Heat 9 O’Brien finished third in a time of 43.457 which put him in the repechage the following morning.

The first day of racing concluded for Team Ireland with the 1000 metres heats. McAnuff started in Heat 4 and ended in fourth place with a time of 1:33.028 giving him another opportunity in the repechage on Sunday. Unfortunately for O’Brien, he was penalised in Heat 8 and would take no further part in the distance.

The second day of competition commenced with the 1500 metres repechage quarterfinals. O’Brien comfortably won Heat 2 in a time of 2:24.948 to advance to the next round. McAnuff went in Heat 4 and just missed out on joining O’Brien as he came fourth in a time 2:36.623.

O’Brien came back for the 1500 metres repechage semifinals knowing he needed a win and nothing less to secure a spot in the afternoon’s 1500 metres semifinals. In a nail biting finish, he crossed the line in 2:31.135 a mere 0.014 seconds ahead of the second place athlete. Ireland would have not one, but two athletes in an afternoon session of a European Championships for the very first time.

It was a busy morning for O’Brien as he was back for the 500 metres repechage quarterfinals hoping to do the same as he did in the 1500 metres. However, he false started in Heat 5 and was disqualified.

O’Brien was drawn in Heat 2 of the 1500 metres semifinals. It proved to be a somewhat messy race and O’Brien was penalised bringing his racing at the championships to a slightly disappointing end. He came 22nd in the distance classification with McAnuff 32nd.

McAnuff was up in Heat 3 of the 500 metres quarterfinals and it was a swift race. He finished fifth in the heat with a time of 43.272. This put him in 19th in the distance classification which is the first time an Irish athlete has finished inside the Top 20 at a European Short Track Speed Skating Championships. O’Brien was 42nd overall.

There was just the 1000 metres repechage quarterfinals left for McAnuff on the final day of the championships. He raced in Heat 5 where he wound up third in a time of 1:42.339 and just missed out on advancing any further. His distance classification was 31st with O’Brien’s 43rd.

“This year’s European Championships were so much fun,” McAnuff said. “I got to engage with and enjoy the company of so many athletes. There was a great atmosphere of supporting one another and encouragement between smaller countries.

“I felt I came back after last season refreshed and with a whole new enjoyment of the sport. I was very pleased with my outcome finishing with the best results of my career, in the 500 metres. I have been training hard off the ice for the last eight months and my coaches and I saw a huge improvement from focusing on these aspects of training. I’m looking forward to future competitions and pushing beyond my limits.”

“The competition definitely had its highs and lows,” O’Brien said. “Qualification didn’t go as planned, but I was happy to bounce back in the repechage on Saturday and make it through to the semifinals in the 1500 metres. In the semi, I thought I was a bit unfortunate to get penalised, but that’s racing. Overall, there was a lot to come out of the competition and take into future races.”

“Sean has delivered his best performance to date at a European Championships,” team leader Karen O’Sullivan said. “His 19th place finish in the 500 metres has to be satisfying for him and the training he has committed to over the season. It will spur him on to improving on this result at his next competition. World Cup 5 in Dresden, Germany in a couple of weeks. After his race this morning he expressed the target of a 16th place in Dresden in the 500 metres.

“The results were not what Liam was hoping for at this championships,” O’Sullivan said. “However, he goes back to his training centre with renewed motivation. This has been a learning championships for Liam and he has shown great mental strength throughout the weekend. His races on Saturday showed us what he is capable of into the future.

“Overall, both competitors did well and have exceeded previous results of Irish athletes at these championships in the past.”

ISAI CEO And CFO Appointed

The Board of Directors of the Ice Skating Association of Ireland (ISAI) is pleased to announce the appointment of Karen O’Sullivan as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Yvonne Brett as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the Association. The appointments have been made by the Board under the power available to it outlined in the ISAI Constitution.

The new CEO and CFO will control and manage the administrative and financial affairs of the Association on a voluntary basis for the term of the current Board with immediate effect.
“The ISAI Board is delighted that Karen and Yvonne have kindly agreed to lend their knowledge and considerable expertise to the Association,” ISAI President Seán Gillis said. “Both Karen and Yvonne have an impressive track record in their previous leadership roles with the ISAI working closely with key stakeholders in Ireland and internationally. The ISAI Board looks forward to working with Karen and Yvonne in developing ice skating further in Ireland.”
“This is a crucial step in the development of the management of the ISAI,” ISAI CEO Karen O’Sullivan said. “It will enable the NGB to grow and meet the increasing demand for ice skating activities in Ireland. I am excited  to  work with the New Board and structure taking Irish skating to the next level.”

McAnuff and O’Brien Fly The Flag For Ireland At Short Track Euros

Sean McAnuff (25) and Liam O’Brien (24) line up this weekend (13-15 January) representing Ireland in the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Gdansk, Poland.The Irish skaters will be among a field of over 130 athletes from 25 countries racing for top honours at an event that was first held in 1997. Last year’s edition was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.McAnuff and O’Brien will begin the championships on Friday, 13 January with the qualifications rounds of the 500, 1000 and 1500 metres distances. Subsequent rounds, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will take place on Saturday, 14 January and Sunday, 15 January.

It will be the fourth appearance at Europeans for McAnuff and his first since 2020.

“It’s so great to be back at Europeans,” McAnuff said. “It sure hasn’t felt like three years since I raced in these Championships. I am very excited to line up against the best skaters in Europe. I look forward to skating to the best of my ability and having fun while doing it!”

O’Brien will feel right at home in the Hala Olivia arena as this is the venue where he made his European debut in 2021.

“It feels good to be back in Gdansk,” O’Brien said. “Last time I was here we were in the middle of the pandemic and not able to leave the hotel. This time I had the chance to get out and explore a bit of the city so I feel more relaxed going into the competition. I am hoping I can improve on my last European results off the back of World Cup 3 and 4.”

The ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships will be broadcast online on Eurosport and the ISU YouTube channel. Geographical restrictions may apply. The results of the championships can be followed on the event results page and on social media via the #ShortTrackSkating hashtag.

Irish Ice Skating Thrived In 2022 Reaching New Heights

Irish ice skating broke new ground in 2022 as activities largely resumed after pandemic restrictions were lifted.

The year began dramatically when Conor Stakelum stepped in at the last moment to compete in Tallinn, Estonia at his fourth European Figure Championships in January. He placed 3oth which was his highest placement ever at the event.

February saw figure skating national team members Adare Condon, Dracy Condon, Robyn Foster, Elizabeth Golding and Sam McAllister participate at international competitions across Europe.

In March, Elizabeth Golding became the first skater to represent Ireland at the European Youth Olympic Festival when the postponed edition in Vuokatti, Finland finally was held. She placed 26th.

Sean McAnuff and Liam O’Brien became the first skaters from Ireland to compete in the same category at an ISU World Championships when they raced at Short Track Speed Skating Worlds in Montreal, Canada in April. They finished 35th and 37th respectively. The same month Dillon Judge, Robyn Foster and Sophia Tkacheva all placed inside the top ten at the Kurbada Cup in Riga, Latvia, while Sam McAllister claimed a silver medal at the Triglav Trophy in Jesenice, Slovenia. Amidst all of that, the Irish Winter Sports National Governing Bodies, including the Ice Skating Association of Ireland, together with the Olympic Federation of Ireland launched the Irish Winter Sports Strategy.

The 2021/2022 season concluded with the Irish Figure Skating Championships held for the first time since 2020. The Dundee Ice Arena hosted the competition over two days with Laura Hegarty and Kevin Hegarty crowned the first ever champions in the Junior Ice Dance event. Sam McAllister and Dillon Judge both won third national titles in their respective categories, while Robyn Foster picked up her first national title.

In July, Conor Stakelum announced his retirement following a career where among other achievements he made history by becoming the first Irish male skater to participate at a European Figure Skating Championships. Among the 2022/2023 figure skating national team members selected were Laura Hegarty and Kevin Hegarty, another first for Irish ice dance.

Ireland fielded its largest ever team at an ISU Junior Grand Prix with Dillon Judge (Men), Robyn Foster (Women) and Laura Hegarty and Kevin Hegarty (Ice Dance) taking to the ice in Courchevel, France at the end of August. The Hegartys also became the first ever ice dance team to represent Ireland at an ISU event. The same weekend Sam McAllister took a bronze medal at the Britannia Figure Cup in Sheffield.

Sophia Tkacheva joined Dillon Judge and Laura Hegarty and Kevin Hegarty in Gdansk, Poland for Team Ireland’s second designated ISU Junior Grand Prix of the season in late September.

In October, Sam McAllister, Dillon Judge and Sophia Tkacheva were back at the Dundee Ice Arena for Tayside Trophy. Both Judge and Tkacheva posted a new set of season bests, while McAllister collected valuable ISU World Ranking points in coming fifth in his event.

Emerald Skate Learn To Skate lessons returned in November with courses held at Dundrum On Ice. Dillon Judge and Sophia Tkacheva rounded out 2022 by competing at the NRW Trophy in Dortmund, Germany. The ISAI Annual General Meeting was held virtually on 30 November and a new Board of Directors was elected.

The final month of 2022 began in spectacular style with an Ice Parade of Nations held at Dundrum On Ice to celebrate the inaugural World Ice Skating Day on 4 December. Liam O’Brien participated in back to back World Cups in Almaty, Kazakhstan setting a new national record in the 1000 metres and also becoming the first Irish short track speed skater to qualify for a World Cup semi-final.

2022 has been a landmark year for Irish ice skating with new heights achieved across a range of disciplines. The ISAI looks forward to making 2023 an even better year with the continued cooperation of all our stakeholders.

2023 Short Track And Figure Euros Teams Named

January 2023 will be a busy month with Ireland represented at both Short Track Speed Skating and Figure Skating European Championships.

Sean McAnuff and Liam O’Brien will race at Short Track Europeans between 13-15 January at the Hala Olivia in Gdansk, Poland. McAnuff finished 35th at the World Championships in Montreal, Canada back in April. It will be his fourth appearance at Europeans.

“I am really excited to compete the upcoming European Championships as it will be my first time in Poland,” McAnuff said. “I took most of this past year off to relax and reflect on why I would like to continue to pursue a career in speed skating. I came to the conclusion going into this competition I find it rewarding to achieve goals I set out for myself. I want to strive to race to the best of my ability and encourage other to do the same while strengthening friendships to be more involved in the skating community.”

O’Brien has had a great season so far. In back to back outings at World Cups in Almaty, Kazakhstan, he set a new national record in the 1000 metres and also became the first Irish skater to race in a World Cup semi-final at any distance.

“I’m excited to get the opportunity to race at Europeans,” O’Brien said. “I can’t wait to head back to Poland where I skated my first competition and previous European Championships for Ireland. I hope to build on the performance from World Cup 4 and aim towards the championship main event.”

After missing out on the previous two editions through cancellation and illness respectively, Sam McAllister makes his European debut at the Metro Areena in Espoo, Finland with the championships taking place 23-29 January. He will become only the third skater to represent Ireland at the event since it began back in 1891.

“I am beyond excited and ready for Europeans,” McAllister said. “I have never travelled to Finland before so I’m looking forward to also visiting a new country. I am planning to go and enjoy this event and gain more experience.”

ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2023 – Gdansk, Poland (13-15 January)

Men: Sean McAnuff, Liam O’Brien

ISU European Figure Skating Championships 2023 – Espoo, Finland (23-29 January)

Men: Sam McAllister