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Speedskaters complete in National Marathon Championships on Lake Bemidji

Speedskaters swooshed past spectators on a Lake Bemidji oval as the U.S. Speedskating National Marathon Championships made its Bemidji debut Saturday.

About 40 speedskaters from across the United States, Canada and the Netherlands are competing this weekend in the 12th annual championships.

The two-day event opened Saturday morning with a 25K marathon and continues today with a 50K marathon at 9 a.m. Also, a series of community speedskating races drew locals to the oval Saturday afternoon.

Danny Frederick of Wauwatosa, Wis., finished Saturday's 25K marathon with a time of 44:06 to capture his fifth U.S. Speedskating National Marathon Championships title.

"This was the biggest race of the year for me," he said. "This is what we've been training for all year."

Frederick skated with two fellow members of Aloe Up, a team that competes in inline skating in the summer and speedskating in the winter.

"It was a real team win today," said Frederick, noting the finishes by team members Mike Anderson and Chad Johnson, both of Minneapolis.

Anderson finished second with a time of 44:07 and Johnson finished fourth at 45:42.

In her first marathon ever, 15-year-old Hannah Curwin of Duluth, Minn., finished as the top female in Saturday's race with a time of 45:47.

"It's surprising," she said. "I didn't really expect it at all."

Her coach, Andrey Zhuikov, said Curwin is one of his best skaters on the Duluth team.

"She's a really determined skater," he said.

Blue skies and sunshine greeted the speedskaters as they sped around the 1-kilometer oval Saturday.

"The skaters love the ice," said local organizer Chantal Cermak of Bemidji, who is a former Olympic speedskater. "Some of them said it's the best lake ice they've skated on."

Cermak, who competed in long-track speedskating in Lillehammer, Norway, as a member of the 1994 U.S. Olympic team, started the Pioneer Speedskating Club in Bemidji three years ago. Last winter, the club made a speedskating oval on Lake Bemidji near the Hampton Inn & Suites, and Hampton owner, Richard Seigert, bought an ice resurfacer to keep the ice in shape.

Cermak later suggested Lake Bemidji as a site for a U.S. Speedskating race. Joe Von Drasek, president of Greater Minnesota Speedskating Association, checked out the site and recommended Lake Bemidji to U.S. Speedskating, which then selected it as the site for the championships.

U.S. Speedskating President Brad Goskowicz said he is pleased with the venue.

"Bemidji's perfect," said Goskowicz, noting that Lake Bemidji has solid ice into February. "I think it's the best marathon ever. We may be back here next year."

"Everything just went perfect," Von Drasek added.

Kathie Zapotocki of Zionsville, Pa., said the oval on Lake Bemidji was the best natural ice she has ever skated on.

"I didn't have to worry about anything -- just skate," said Zapotocki, who was the second female to finish in the 25K marathon.

Bemidji resident Kristine Hammitt, who is a member of the Pioneer Speedskating Club, also competed in the marathon, which was her first race.

"I've learned a lot today," she said. "It's amazing how many little strategies there are."

From the edge of the oval, Amy Johnson of Minneapolis cheered on her husband, Chad, with their two daughters, Olivia, 6, and Emma, 4.

"We're just really grateful that Bemidji was willing to put this on," she said. "We're glad to be part of the first one (in Bemidji)."

"It was absolutely wonderful," Chad Johnson said after finishing the race. "It was so much fun to have it on the lake -- a well-done race."

Mayor Richard Lehmann, who competed in one of the community speedskating races Saturday afternoon, said he was pleased that the championships came to Bemidji.

"This is terrific," he said. "It's a great thing for Bemidji."

"What a wonderful event," said Rebecca Monley of Cass Lake, who watched Saturday's 25K marathon with her husband, Robert. "And it's a beautiful day to be outside."

She said it's inspiring to see the speedskaters' dedication, physical ability and agility.

Further down the ice, Lyan and Kelly Karger of Bemidji watched the race with their daughter, Ridley, 2.

"It's great that we have something of this caliber here," Kelly Karger said.