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Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009

Pettit National Ice Center’s Olympic Pride

Milwaukee on ice

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As the Olympic torch treks across Canada en route to Vancouver for the 21st Winter Games in February 2010, it’s only appropriate to look at Wisconsin’s contribution to the monumental sporting event. Milwaukee’s own Pettit National Ice Center is one of 11 indoor 400-meter speedskating ovals in the world, and is the official training facility of the U.S. Speedskating team. All of the U.S. speedskaters in the last four Winter Olympics have competed or trained at the center, and as the only skating oval at sea level in America available to our country’s athletes, it is critical for skaters training for this year’s Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, also at sea level.

The Pettit Center was named for Jane Bradley Pettit, whose foundation provided the primary private funding for the construction and initial operation of the center. The $13 million facility was built on the site once occupied by the outdoor Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink, which operated from 1967 until 1991. It was at the outdoor oval that Madison’s Eric Heiden, who made Olympic history in 1980 by capturing an unprecedented five gold medals, trained. The new state-of-the-art center opened on Dec. 31, 1992, just in time for speedskaters to prepare for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. One of those skaters, West Allis’ Dan Jansen, won the first and only Olympic gold medal of his career at the XVII Olympic Winter Games in 1994, setting a new world record in the process. Wisconsin is well represented in the world of speedskating, in great part because of the Pettit Center.

Because of all its amenities—3,000 seats, two Olympic-size ice rinks and a 450-meter, two-lane jogging track, among other things—the Pettit Center is a lot of things to a lot of people, even for those without Olympic aspirations. More than a dozen clubs call it home, from figure skating to wheelchair hockey and senior skating. It operates one of the largest skating schools in the country and hosts approximately 500,000 visitors a year. Whether you are hoping to escape the outside temperatures, have some family time during open skate or simply have a penchant for Olympic athletes, the Pettit National Ice Center is one of Milwaukee’s greatest assets.

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