by Leonard Shapiro

Short track speedskating is among the more thrilling competitions at the Winter Olympics. A gaggle of competitors crouches at the starting line, followed by fierce jockeying for position as they fly around a treacherously curved 111-meter track, with bodies more than occasionally careening off the course and out of contention.

Alan Salacain of Middleburg, a 16-year-old junior at Middleburg Academy, has become a skilled practitioner of a sport that is not exactly in the mainstream in the Washington area. Yet, on most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays he and his mother Reyne head off to skating rinks inside and outside the beltway for his grueling three-hour practice sessions, usually in the evenings when the hockey crowd leaves the ice.

There are times when they don’t return home until midnight or later, but both Reyne and Alan believe it’s been well worth the effort for a teenager who often competes on a national level with his 20 or so teammates, male and female, on the United Capital Blades Skating Club.

“My mother drives me to practice, and then she waits,” Alan said. “I couldn’t do it without her.”

Said Reyne, “We all drink a lot of tea.”

She and her fellow speedskating parents do plenty more. In addition to all that driving and financing the ice time, before practices they help place protective pads on the sideboards, and even hand-sharpen their kids’ skates after every session. 

“It’s a great group,” added Reyne, whose husband, Jim, is an imagery scientist. “We’ve become very close.”

Alan competes in races at distances of 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters as well as relays and will travel to Madison, Wisconsin in two weeks to compete in one of three America’s Cup Racing series events, the better to earn points that could eventually lead to making a national team.

Alan first took up the sport at the age of ten. His older brother Calvin, now a 20-year-old college student at NOVA, played ice hockey when the family lived in Ashburn, and Alan followed suit. He was not especially enamored with the sport, but loved to go fast on his skates and soon found his way on to the Washington Speedskating Club based in Ashburn, with the rink only about five minutes from home.

His original coach, Soo Yeon Yeo, was a member of the South Korean national team, and when she returned to her native country three years ago, he switched over to his current coach, Hyun Lee, another Korean national team member and Olympian. They train in Rockville, at Fort Dupont in Washington and Dale City. In addition to their weekend sessions, the club does have practices during the week, but “with Alan in high school, we really do have to set priorities,” Reyne said.

Alan’s best event is the 500 meters, or four laps around the track. His best time in the 500 is only six seconds off the world record, and he keeps improving, with a significant assist from Middleburg Academy’s own interscholastic sports program.

The family moved to Middleburg last summer “because we loved the area,” Reyne said, adding that they also are enamored with the school. This last fall, Alan decided he was going to run on the cross country team, a decision that’s clearly helped his skating.

 “They have a no-cut policy at school,” he said. “I had tried golf and tennis, but I thought cross country would be great for my legs. I just figured it would be huge for conditioning and I could shave some time in the 1,000. At first, I thought I’d be miserable, but I really enjoyed it. I shaved seven seconds off my 1,000 time. I was fourth on my cross country team and finished in the top half in the state (championship), so I was happy.”

Alan also loves the competitive nature of his main sport, not to mention the camaraderie among his fellow competitors.

“When I go to the bigger events,” he said, “at least half if not more of my opponents are people I know and are friends with. That makes it even more enjoyable.”

The next Winter Olympics will be contested in South Korea in 2018 when Alan will be a freshman in college. He’s not at all certain what his long-term speedskating future will be, but already knows he’d like to study marine archeology, perhaps at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

 For now, though, cutting more seconds off his times is the short-term goal for this gifted short-track speed skater, while his mom keeps sipping that tea.