Sage Acorn, centre, after victory in the 500m at the 2023 Arctic Winter Games. Carla Skauge/Team NT
Team NT short-track speed skater Sage Acorn picked up his second gold ulu in two nights at the 2023 Arctic Winter Games on Tuesday.
Acorn won the U19 male 500m in a time of 45.02 seconds, eclipsing the time of 45.37 set by NWT sporting hall-of-famer Michael Gilday in his last of four Arctic Winter Games appearances 19 years ago.
Gilday, who went on to compete for Canada at the Sochi 2014 Olympics, was paying attention.
“It’s great to see records being broken and the level of the sport continuing to progress in the North,” he told Cabin Radio on Wednesday morning.
“Congrats to Sage and really to the whole team, they work hard to push each other in training.”
Acorn had already won the 1,000m race on Monday. His ulu on Tuesday was one of seven won by Team NT speed skaters that night: Morgan Nelson took U16 female 400m gold ahead of sister Kara in second place, Erika Pollard picked up silver in the U19 female 500m, and there were bronze ulus for Lochlan Dunn, Rebecca Messier and Seiya McEachern.
“Another great day of personal bests, pushing through mental challenges when results didn’t go their way, and great results,” said coaching staff member Madison Pilling.
“We are very happy for the entire team and so proud of each of them for their personal achievements.”
After beating Gilday’s Arctic Winter Games record, Acorn said: “It’s a big milestone for any athlete to have a record to their name. To me, it’s proof of how much I have worked and trained over the years.
“I really put a lot into this year getting ready for the games. I’m just ecstatic.”
Gilday’s 1,500m marker
GIlday, watching at home, said Acorn’s result may be even better than it looks. Ice conditions and even arena sizes can be factors in short track, he said, referring to the Fort McKay arena hosting this year’s event.
“Maybe the rink folks there have the ice dialled in and it’s really quick, but on rinks where short track isn’t skated all the time – and in a tighter rink than they skate on at home – skating a quick time is a great result,” he said.
Short-track speed skating resumes on Thursday and finishes with the relays and 1,500m races on Friday.
While Gilday can’t remember too much about his 2004 results, he does remember how hard he worked to lay down a marker in the 1,500m – one that should pose a challenge and a target for Acorn.
“I was trying to break the 1,500m Arctic Winter Games record,” Gilday recalled of his focus that week almost two decades ago.
Athletes’ approaches to the 500m and 1,500m are usually completely different. The 500m is essentially a sprint to the finish, whereas the 1,500m evolves over time and normally requires strategic pacing at the start before building gradually to a frenzied conclusion.
“In the 1,500m, you actually have to go hard from the gun” to get a record, Gilday said.
“I remember actively trying to set some times back then, to set a nice bar that would challenge people down the road.”