Ireland became a Speed Skating Member of the ISU in 2016. Siblings Ryan (22) and Sean McAnuff (19) skated for Ireland for the first time this season at World Cup Short Track Events and Ryan skated at the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2017 in Rotterdam. We find out what sacrifices and how much dedication are required to make their dream of skating and developing the sport in Ireland come true.
Q = interviewer (Selina Vanier for ISU) RM = Ryan McAnuff, SM = Sean McAnuff
Q: You are the first athletes to represent Ireland in Short Track. Tell us about your journey and how you got into the sport.
RM: We originally got involved with Short Track because we have two older brothers, and the eldest saw it on TV during an Olympic year. He wanted to try so he did and then it went down the chain! All the other brothers skated. Now our older brothers do not skate anymore it’s just Sean and I. This is our 14th year skating and it all start in Canada. We first started in Ontario and then moved to Québec to go to Bishop’s University in Sherbrook. I’m in my fifth year now which is my last year and will graduate soon.
I have been skating in Sherbrook since 2012. And then just a few years ago we started emailing the Ice Skating Association of Ireland (ISAI). They have had the Figure Skating membership for many years now with the ISU and we were inquiring about Speed Skating, and if it would be a possibility and what we need to do and how can we help out to get that Membership. We slowly started to fill in the application, writing the rules for Ireland Speed Skating. Our dad is also on the Committee for Speed Skating Ireland. Our dad and grandparents are Irish citizens and our grandparents were born there and moved to Canada probably mid 1900s. We still have family there.
SM: We are dual citizens (Irish and Canadian). And we went out to Ireland to run a Speed Skating camp over Christmas 2015. We brought a bunch of speed skates out there and other equipment for this five day long camp. We did dry land and on ice training in Dublin and all of this with the help of ISAI.
RM: There was no Speed Skating in Ireland at that time, so when we went out there, kids, adults, parents, they all tried it. We just thought it would be cool to help Ireland develop this kind of training program.
Q: This sounds like a family affair, were you the two main people involved?
RM: it was really our dad, Sean and myself. Our dad did a lot and worked with the ISAI and they were very helpful. And then in June 2016, Ireland got provisional membership in the Speed Skating Branch so we got named to the national team which was super exciting. We raced for the first time for Ireland in August 2016 in Salt Lake City (USA) at the Desert Classic.
SM: That’s where we got our qualifying times for the World Cups. We needed to get the qualifying time in the 500m to be able to skater at the World Cups and we participated at the ISU World Cup Short Track event in Calgary (October 2016). We also went to South Korea. It is hard to miss two straight weeks of school so we cannot go to all World Cups because we are both in school full time. I’m in my second year, Ryan and I are both in biology
Q: Now that Ireland is a Speed Skating Member of the ISU, what are your next goals?
SM: a little of a broad goal for Ryan and I would be to continue developing the sport in Ireland because that is super important for us. We went back out to Ireland in January 2017 to run another week long Speed Skating camp. So we are really focused on developing the sport and bring awareness to the sport which should be pretty easy with our flashy suits on the ice!
RM: in a world perfect I would get into a medical school in Ireland (studying biology and medicine). Permission has been given to build a brand new full size rink somewhere in Ireland and it would be really cool to have a Speed Skating team there.
Q: Ryan was saying that if there is an opportunity to go to Ireland once the rink is built, would you also consider going to Ireland Sean?
SM: the Canadian team and the national program are huge so we want to go in that direction for Ireland. But I am only in my second year of university so I really don’t know what I will do after but I do think that there will be a time in my life that I will live in Ireland and help develop a club for Speed Skating. That would definitely be something I would want to do, it would be awesome. Especially that our family has been really helpful and supportive.
Q: Do you have any personal goals as competitive skaters?
SM: I want to get experience racing at this top level with these athletes. Skating with these fast skaters I think will bring out our maximum potential as skaters. We are shoulder to shoulder with these amazing skaters after all. Hopefully it will also help us improve our personal best times.
RM: the end goal would obviously be the Olympics. So this year as Sean was saying, gaining more experience, I don’t think technically what we do this year will affect next year. We are finding out how these events work, we found out about the blood testing, so at the next event we already know about it and feel more prepared. And then being top 32 in the world in one or more distances next season would be the ultimate goal. The World Cups are important next season (they are the Olympic qualifying events). If people in Ireland see Irish skaters on TV during the Olympics that would be pretty huge.
Q: you have been following Short Track for a number of years, and now are competing at big international events and Championships. Who are you the most excited to compete against?
RM: Will Preudhomme is on the Canadian team, he went to Bishop’s University for two years so I skated and practiced with him. He is also from Toronto, although he is a year older than me, we kind of grew up and skated with him and became good friends. And also Patrick Duffy he is from our hometown Oakville, we skated with him when we were younger until he graduated from high school. And of course all the Canadian guys Charles and Francois (Hamelin) etc. Wu Dajing (CHN) is ranked very high and we watched him at past World Cups and Olympics, he is just a really good skater. Sjinkie Knegt from the Netherlands is someone I have been following too and it would very cool if I get to race him.
SM: we got to see Patrick train throughout high school and then he made the national team for Canada. He has been a role model to Ryan and I. He answered a lot of our questions on how all of this works. Team Korea is also pretty intimidating to me. And J.R. Celski (USA), we met him at the Desert Classic last August. He is a really nice guy and he is the current world record holder for the 500m. I race in the 500m and 1000m, J.R. is a very quick skater so it would be cool to race him.
Q: you were both born in Canada and spent most of your life there. Why did you choose to skate for Ireland over Canada?
SM: since our family has history in Ireland and we saw the opportunity to skate for them, we wanted to take it because if we can bring up Short Track in Ireland we think that would be really cool. In Canada it is already very developed and at a very high level so if we can grow the sport from nothing in Ireland then I would rather take that opportunity instead of working my way into something that is already there.
RM: also for Team Canada there is a large group of people that easily make the World Cup teams, there are so many amazing athletes. In the short term it wasn’t very realistic for Sean and I to be on the national team. Sean was in the top 30 in Canada, but you have to be in the top six to get anywhere. So we just thought if we can take the opportunity to race for Ireland, help grow the sport plus we get to race in World Cups and the experience is pretty good.
Q: What else can you tell us about yourselves?
RM: we have an Instagram account where we do work out videos. It has grown and we now own a company, it’s called the Elite Performance Training and our account has over 27K followers. We have all these videos where we do a lot of our office ice filming.
Q: where can we find out more information on Short Track in Ireland?
SM: the ISIA has a YouTube, Facebook and Twitter page so if you want to find out more about Speed Skating in Ireland check them out!