There isn’t only one defining moment in Michael Ireland’s speed skating career that stands out as his finest hour. How could there be? This Winnipegger, who cut his teeth on the frigid Sargent Park Oval so many years ago, has had far too many “finest hour” moments to single out only one.
“My first moment came while I was standing on the podium (in Calgary) as a 20 year old in my second World Cup ever. I was looking at the two other people on the podium with me and thinking, I can compete with the best,” Ireland recently said from his home in Calgary.
“The seasons of 2000 and 2001 were my finest seasons, with setting a world record in the 1,000 metres (1:08.34, World Cup Championships in Calgary) in 2001, and winning the World Sprint championship (the same year). It was a terrific feeling having beaten the Olympic (1998 in Nagano, Japan) gold medalist (Hiroyasu Shimizu of Japan) head to head in the final. Then taking the victory lap in the horse and buggy-chariot while fireworks went off in the beautiful mountain village... I will never forget that day.”
Ireland was born in Mississsauga, ON. He moved to Winnipeg in July 1975 and, at the age of two, he tested his skills on the Assiniboine Park duck pond. At four, he followed his brother Sean to the River Heights Speed Skating Club, where he was introduced to the Sargent Park Oval (later named the Susan Auch Oval, at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Centre). River Heights remained his home club until he retired from the sport, following the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
While growing up in Charleswood, Ireland also participated in competitive hockey, soccer, golf and track and field. He also participated in the MTS Olympic School Speaker Program in rural Manitoba, and competed at the 1991 Canada Winter Games in Charlottetown, PEI. After graduating from Oak Park High School, he moved to Calgary to train at the Olympic Oval, and at 19 was named to the national team as a sprinter.
Following the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Ireland hung up the blades, ending his career of 16 years on the national team. Four times an Olympian, Ireland finished in the top ten twice in the 500 metres (7th both times) at Turin in 2006 and Salt Lake City in 2002.
“When I was a young skater, I dreamt about being the fastest in the world,” said Ireland, who over his career won more than 50 World Cup and World Championship medals. “I accomplished most of my goals by setting a world record, winning a world championship and (five) World Cups but missed winning an Olympic medal. Obviously I would have liked to have achieved the latter.”
While the Olympic medal was not to be, Ireland remains one of the finest Manitoba athletes to ever strap on the long blades, and represent Canada on the world stage. Today, Michael Ireland becomes a member of the elite club known as the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
As he took the time to look back over his career, Ireland recalled one more thing he wished he had. “The biggest thing I wished I had now is more pictures to remember all the people that I met and places that I travelled to, because that was the best part.”