The tight line of speed skaters above, scrambling for position during the North American championships, are the best of the 6,000 U.S. racers who each year try to squeeze a season's skating into six weeks when the ice on American rinks is right for outdoor racing. These top Americans, however, are only mediocre by European standards and way below the crack Russians who swept the skating Olympics last winter. The Russians have two advantages. For one, they skate the international style, with each man racing alone against the clock, using a long, flowing stride that eats up distance. Americans start in a pack. And although this makes for colorful action, as these pictures show, it also means the racers have to use a choppy stride which sacrifices speed for balance. The other factor is condition, and almost none of the Americans who gather in Detroit February 2 and 3 for this year's North American meet will be in the same superb physical shape as the Russians they encountered in Cortina. "You couldn't," said one candid U.S. coach, "get an American kid to put in the kind of training the Russians do."
Gliding over glare ice turned bright orange by late afternoon sun, racers in the North American intermediate distance championships follow leader past flag at the turn.
Peeking through visor in woollen skating helmet, 13-year-old Peggy Robb of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan eyes starting gun.
Stepping out into early lead in 440-yard sprint, Champion Mary Novak hustles to keep lead on runner-up Carol Eklund.
Mary Novak, 17, Chicago, biggest winner in intermediate class at North American meet last year, bundles up in skating robe covered with patches showing victories in major races.