Skating for Gold:
Wisconsin's Olympic Speed Skaters, 1976-2006
"Wisconsin's Gold Mine"
The Pettit National Ice Center
The interior of the Pettit National Ice Center.
Wisconsin has a venerable recreational and competitive speed skating tradition. The first United States Olympic speed skating time trials were held in Oconomowoc in 1928, and the West Allis Speed Skating Club has trained skaters and sponsored local, regional, and national meets in the Milwaukee area since 1935. By 1949 the club had won so many races that West Allis was dubbed the "Skating Capital of Wisconsin."
In the 1960s, Wisconsin set its sights on a training facility for Olympic-style competition, in which skaters race in pairs against the clock rather than in packs against each other. When speed skater Terry McDermott of Detroit won America's only gold medal in the 1964 Winter Olympics, public interest in Olympic speed skating grew. McDermott's victory came just as the State of Wisconsin began plans to develop year-round uses for State Fair Park. Local speed skating groups seized the moment and convinced the State to build the nation's first artificially refrigerated, Olympic-sized speed skating track there.
When the Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink opened on Dec. 17, 1966, Milwaukee became the national center for Olympic speed skating. The ability to train on an Olympic-sized rink under Olympic conditions began to transform Wisconsin and American skaters into some of the world's best. By the mid-1980s, the success of American speed skaters had earned the Olympic Ice Rink the nickname, "Wisconsin's Gold Mine."
In the late 1980s, local business leaders and Olympic skating organizations endorsed the idea of a Midwestern facility that would offer year-round training opportunities. In 1991, the State agreed to support the idea and constructed an indoor rink on the site of the old outdoor track. The new facility, named for philanthropists Lloyd and Jane Pettit, opened December 31, 1992. Every American long-track speed skater who competed in the 1994, 1998, and 2002 Olympics has at one time in his or her skating career trained and competed at the Pettit National Ice Center.