By MICHAEL KELLY
GLENVILLE — It was just a couple of years ago that David Skoda took more than a year off from speed skating.
Now, the 16-year-old from Glenville is just a couple weeks away from representing his country at the World Junior Speed Skating Championships in Warsaw.
Pretty neat, huh?
“I’m excited,” said Skoda after finishing up a recent training session in Saratoga Springs. “I want to see where I stand with the rest of the guys in the world.”
The delivery for that statement is smooth and casual, which seems unlikely from a kid who never really expected to land a spot on the U.S. team when he went to Milwaukee for the club’s trials Jan. 9-11. It was not until the final day of the competition that Skoda realized it was a distinct possibility he could finish in the top five and head to Poland.
Even then, his coach, Paul Marchese — who has coached the sport at four Olympics, including the last two for China — said Skoda only knew he needed to skate his best to have a chance.
“I think he understood the pressure in that moment,” said Marchese, who trains Skoda twice a week in Saratoga Springs and all weekend in Lake Placid. “But he doesn’t understand the true level of the competition or the point system involved — but maybe it was good he didn’t understand that.”
Skoda did not need to worry about math formulas or anything else, though, as his skating removed any guesswork. He recorded personal-best times that weekend in the 500-, 1,000, and 1,500-meter events, nabbing him the No. 5 spot for Team USA for the Feb. 20-22 competition in Poland.
Skoda attended Niskayuna High School up until last year; now, to better accommodate his skating practice schedule, he is home-schooled. He said he is not sure what to expect when he gets to Poland. He wants to have fun with the competition and see how he might stack up for future world-type competitions with skaters his age, and Marchese said the No. 1 goal for Skoda when he makes his trip should be to get comfortable at the elite event.
“This is more of a reconnaissance mission for him,” Marchese said.
The coach explained Skoda may experience some culture shock and will need to overcome it. At practices, he may share the ice with skaters speaking everything but English and he will need to be able to focus on his work.
“Everyone looks different, talks different and skates different,” Marchese said.
Back home, Skoda likes to hang out with friends and be outdoors when he is not skating. He said he dirt bikes whenever he can and likes to take turns on snowmobiles during the winter months — both activities that make sense for the elite-level speed skater.
“I like to go fast, as my dad would say,” Skoda said.