Ice racing fever grips England's frozen fenlands

Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:41am EST
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By Paul Casciato

BURY FEN, England (Reuters Life!) - It's cold. It's fast. It's one of the rarest honors in outdoor speed skating and it just might happen this year for the first time in more than a decade ... if the weather holds.

A prolonged cold snap in southern England has raised hopes that the amateur speed skating championship of Great Britain could be held this year on the fens near the southern English city of Cambridge.

The King Edward Cup is part of a tradition that stretches back to the 17th century, but was last contested in 1997 because it has to be held outdoors in the country's eastern counties where the milder weather has made it increasingly rarer.

The marshy lands drained for agriculture in the 17th century near Cambridge called the fens are the traditional proving grounds for British speed skaters and have frozen over enough in the last week to hold some preliminary racing.

"We've been praying every night, holding seances, whatever it takes," fenland farmer and chairman of the fenland speed skating race committee Malcolm Robinson told Reuters.

He and his fellow committee members -- surrounded by dozens of skaters, sledgers, ice hockey players and a host of onlookers -- were out on the ice in Bury Fen to check whether it could be fit to hold the championship in the next few days.

The committee is charged with ensuring the safety of the ice for racing and giving three days' notice of their intentions to hold the championship.

Speed skating enthusiast David Smith from the nearby village of Sutton, who won Saturday's sprint race for locals within a 40 mile radius said Bury Fen was the traditional and spiritual home of British speed skating.   Continued...