Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Waples guts it out in Cowtown

Winnipeg speed skater denied funding, drives Zamboni to survive

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Stefan Waples lives away from home to train, receives no athlete assistance funding and drives a Zamboni to eke out a living.Some days it feels to the 22-year-old speed skater from Winnipeg that the odds are against him, but he's giving everything he's got to try to make his dream of qualifying for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver come true.

Waples, who has trained in Calgary since 2006 to have access to the Olympic Oval facility and year-round ice, is among a handful of speed skaters in Canada who have achieved a qualifying time in the men's 10,000-metres event. But he's the only one among them who is not receiving funding from Speed Skating Canada and is not a carded athlete under Sport Canada.

"My summer training is going very well but I'm finding myself struggling financially. Right now I'm working full-time hours at the Olympic Oval, but I'm hoping to find some sponsorship money to give me a real chance at making the Olympic team," said Waples, a graduate of Kelvin High School, who drives the Zamboni at the Olympic Oval.

"It's a great job and they give me a lot of benefits, but still, it would be nice not have to work as many hours as I have to."

Waples trains for about four hours starting at 7 a.m., trains after lunch for about three hours and then puts in an eight-hour shift at work from 4 p.m.-midnight.

A bureaucratic nightmare saw Waples left off the list of funded athletes.

In the recently released 2009 ISU rankings, Waples is ranked No. 2 in Canada in the men's 10,000 metres based on his best time. Usually, the top five in each distance are funded. About a month ago, Waples learned Speed Skating Canada used "a different way of ranking us" and Waples was ranked fourth. The top three were picked and two other athletes, excluding Waples, were given discretionary cards .

"Coming into an Olympic year, when you have to be so focused and so committed to training, to have to work as much as I am, it's very difficult," he said.

Waples doesn't know why he wasn't funded but he knows can't dwell on it, mostly because he has to get to work. Both at his job and in training.

"They have their selection criteria and there's not much I can do. I can't appeal their decision. All I can do from this point is hope to find a bit of private funding because they've made their decision, they aren't going to fund me, they aren't going to support me. I have to deal with that decision from here on out."

Waples has skated times in the past that would qualify him in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000, but now must do it this season to qualify for the 2010 Olympics.

"I would like to qualify in all three but my best chance is in the 10,000," said Waples, whose best time last season was 13 minutes, 36.26 seconds at the 2009 North American Championships in Calgary.

It was the 30th fastest in the world in that distance and second fastest by a Canadian.

"If I can skate as well as I did last year, and if I can continue improving the way I am, it's looking pretty good," he said.

Waples said the speed skating season officially starts Sept. 15 and there will be a number of opportunities to post a qualifying time, including two events in Calgary, before the team is finalized in January.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 12, 2009 B8

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