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All ready . . . Overseeing another training session for young speed skaters, Bill and Cheryl Begg. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Bill Begg says when he and wife Cheryl returned to Timaru eight years ago, they were determined to create a dynasty of speed skating champions.

They have achieved that goal – and more.

Earlier this month the Beggs and their proteges, aged from under 10 to their early 20s, came back from the national speed skating championships in Palmerston North with an impressive haul of medals.

The South Canterbury Speed Skating Club cleaned up 55 of 108 available New Zealand titles and took out the United Shield for the top club at the championships for the eighth successive year.

Things were not so rosy when the Beggs settled in Timaru after many years of living in Auckland and around the world.

“There were only about two or three skaters racing,” Bill (72) said.

As well as that, the track at Caroline Bay was in need of maintenance and an upgrade.

With Bill and Cheryl (59) leading the way, a new track was laid.

Speed skating, of which Timaru was once a stronghold during the 1970s (when Bill was a self-coached and accomplished national champion), roared back to life in the town.

So what are the reasons for the success?

“When new people come in here, my wife Cheryl, a three-times world champion, runs the ‘learn to skate’,” Bill said.

“It’s like being coached by an All Black coach. Not many sports have that. If you learn from the best you get off to a good start.

“Usually we have 30 here in a training session but there’s a shortage of boys. There were only four men at the national championships.

“Years ago it was a sport for the guys; now it’s women.

“Boys have gone to skateboards and bikes, where it’s undisciplined and no rules and regulations.

“Boys don’t want direction.”

The Beggs’ daughter Nicole, a world champion, has assisted with coaching and there are several others who help out.

Another reason for the success, Bill believes, is that the Beggs’ enthusiasm for their sport rubs off on others and encourages them to get involved.

“Speed skaters train hard. Every Tuesday we road train at Levels over 30km and we don’t allow bad attitudes,” says Bill.

“It’s important they are good at life. We don’t run rules and I don’t have any trouble with kids. I’ve been ‘high-fiving’ for 20 years.”

The Beggs have lived and coached in Australia, China, Indonesia, Italy, Columbia and Switzerland but always intended to return to Timaru.

Bill has coached 17 world champions, one of them a 14-year-old Australian girl who won a women’s sprint title.

Asked for a highlight, he says there have been lots of them, but having his wife and daughter win world titles and being their coach was special.

The Beggs’ love of speed skating transcends any monetary considerations.

“We’re not materialistic; we live in a 9m bus and have a 7m campervan.

“We’re looking for the next kid to be a world champion. Cheryl had big management jobs in Auckland; now she does fill-in at Pak’n Save at nights so she can be with the kids in the afternoons.”

It was important, Bill said, that training sessions for children started at 4pm, to ensure it was all over by the time families wanted to be sitting down for dinner. The payback for the Beggs is enjoying the success of those they coach and the camaraderie that exists in the sport.

“We like to create a culture of success and create good citizens. A guy said to me that ‘I’m just another kid you kept out of jail’. That’s one thing that the sport does.

“Everyone helps one another and we have lots of overseas people who come here.

“We were in Europe for eight months last year and paid nothing.

“It’s a good, friendly culture.”

From today, and over the weekend, the Beggs will be actively involved in the Tour of Timaru.