Meet the Press

It seems that this Aussie skater is causing a little interest in the skating world, here is a selection of the stories I've generated so far.

McDonalds' fastest skater
From Algemeen Dagblad (Dutch National Paper), November 15 2002, by Renze Lolkema:

Australia delivers good swimmers, cyclists and tennis players. And Down Under, they are particularly proud of their rugby and football players. Skaters? These live on the other side of the globe. That's why Mark Eaton has chosen Sweden and the Netherlands as his base.

Erfurt - On the track named after last century's best female speed skater, the slowest speed skater of this century arrived this week. That is, until now. Mark Eaton is not planning to go through life as a "skating slug". Last week in Hamar, he was proud to be faster than one Austrian. One down. In the GNS-halle in Erfurt, he is expecting more from himself.

Australia and skating, as bad as a "marriage" can get. But Eaton sees opportunities. Through roller skating and short track, the now 31-year-old adventurer got into touch with skating. In 1999, a friend showed him a video tape from Bart Veldkamp's golden race at the Albertville Winter Olympics of 1992. That made him think. There was a way to use his "long breath", on the long distance. "Short track was not my sport, but I liked the ice."

Later that year, through friends in Sweden, he found out he could move around on long track skates ("Noren"). And that on one of the coldest days of his life. "In Melbourne, it was -2 degrees Celsius once. Everybody's still talking about that. In winter it is normally nine, not higher than 8 degrees. In Sweden, it was -12, then. I arrived frozen, but I thought it was fantastic. This was what I wanted."

But Eaton wanted more. A request on the internet ("Who can teach me how to skate?"), he got into touch with DaniÎlle Bekkering, nowadays a top marathon skater. She told him that if he was really interested, he had to come to the Netherlands. And so he traded his Melbourne home for a farm in Den Ham. He stayed with the Bekkering family in the Groningen countryside. And Eaton skated at Kardinge, the track of the "Martinistad" [Groningen, JH]. And he was taught by a Dutchwoman completely unknown to him, who crazy about skating as much as he was.

Back "down under", he knew it for sure. He wanted to be a skater. But not as an employee of the Australian PTT, where he had been working for 6 years. He chose an enormous challenge. Hearth and home were left and he headed for Calgary, then the fastest ice rink in the world. He was lucky his employer had to do cut backs. A forced resignment gave him a reasonable sum of money. That money was put together with the revenues of the sale of his car and furniture.

Meanwhile, it's two seasons later. Calgary did not turn out to be a "valhalla", if no trainer is there to give the necessary assistance. So, he went to Sandviken in Sweden, where he could rely on the knowledge of ‰ke Falk, trainer of the Swedish youth team. And Falk was also the father of his friend Sebastian, reigning Swedish allround champion.

But life in Canada and Sweden turned out to be expensive. Eaton is not only one of the slowest skaters in the World Cup circuit, he's also one of the poorest ones. His savings are nearly depleted. That's why he had to enter the job market. He received a working permit for the Netherlands and Sweden and in Sandviken he eventually found a job at McDonald's. "I'm in the kitchen".

Fun is different, isn't it? "I have a dream. And I have goals. I want to represent Australia at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. I still have a long way to go. But I love this. We have no ice tracks in Australia, that's why I am here. I have to live sober, but that's how it's got to be. This week, I got a lift with two Dutchmen from Hamar to Erfurt by car. And for the World Cup in Heerenveen, I'll find some way of transportation. I'm not a planner, I never make arrangements. I just see how things go. I sometimes feel like a drifter, but it is an adventurous way of living. I get to make a lot of friends, and I get to skate. My love for this sport has no limits."

Kindly translated by Jeroen Heijmans