Speed skating brothers hope to harness 'luck of the Irish' at world championships in Montreal

Speed skating brothers hope to harness 'luck of the Irish' at world championships in Montreal

The irony of competing for Ireland on St. Patrick's Day isn't lost on 23-year-old Ryan McAnuff.

The short-track speed skater, originally from Oakville Ont., lives and trains in Sherbrooke, Que. alongside his younger brother, 20-year-old Sean McAnuff.

This weekend Ryan is lacing up his skates and fighting for a position at the Short-track Speed Skating World Championships in Montreal under the banner of the Irish flag.

"It will be a lot of fun. I'll have the luck of the Irish for sure," said Ryan, who's competed for Ireland before.

"Last year, we were at a competition in the U.S. on St. Patrick's Day," he said.

"The announcer didn't know we were actually from Ireland and thought we were wearing the suits because of St. Patrick's Day. Everyone in the audience was laughing."

Speed skating is far from the only thing the McAnuff brothers have in common.  

Ryan is a recent graduate of Bishop's University in Lennoxville, where he studied biology.  

Sean is now in the same program, and both brothers train with the Sherbrooke speed skating team's sports excellence program.

Bringing speed skating to Ireland

The brothers are dual citizens of Canada and Ireland and they're taking it upon themselves to make speed skating an Irish sport.

"Our dad sent an email [to the ice skating association of Ireland] just to inquire about speed skating in Ireland, and there wasn't any at the time," said Ryan. "But the board had an interest in developing the sport."

Since then, the McAnuff family has been instrumental in developing the sport in Ireland.

"Our dad is on the technical committee there and he helped write the rules, and also planned different activities to get kids to try the sport," said Ryan.  

When the McAnuff brothers aren't competing in events for Ireland, they're actively pushing to grow the sport in the Irish Republic.

"We've been out to Ireland many times over the Christmas break or throughout winter to run speed skating camps for kids and teenagers mostly, but also some adults," said Sean.

Initially the brothers even had to bring all of the equipment over with them.

"The first camp we ran, we brought helmets, suits, neck guards, gloves and speed skates because Ireland didn't have an inventory," said Ryan. "But now they've got everything except a full set of pads. But we're working on that."

A family affair

The McAnuffs said their love of speed skating has trickled down from their older siblings.

"We have two older brothers as well, who saw speed skating in the 2002 Olympics and thought it looked cool," said Sean. "The town where we were living had a pretty large club, so they started skating and we followed in their footsteps."

He said their older brothers aren't skating anymore but he and Ryan want to bring awareness of winter sports to Ireland.

"Maybe it's a future Olympic sport for Ireland," said Sean, who's hoping this weekend's world championship event will draw more attention to speed skating in the country.

He admits his long-term goal is to skate for Ireland at the 2022 Beijing Olympic games.

Earning a second spot

Sean won't get to race in the world championships this weekend unless Ryan is injured or for some reason can't compete.

Ireland only has one spot at the event this year with Ryan racing and Sean standing by as his first alternate.

"The number of racing spots depends on qualifying spots from last year," explained Ryan. "You have to be in the top 32 in the world to get a second spot."

"So that's my goal for this year — to be top 32 to get a second spot next year for Sean," he said.

Ryan said he's excited to compete this weekend.

"I'll have the Irish flag. Our family is coming, lots of friends from Bishop's University, and the club from Sherbrooke will be coming, so we'll have a great cheering squad from around Canada. And the board from Ireland will have some people there as well, so it will be really cool racing on our big holiday," he said.

The Short-track Speed Skating World Championships starts Friday and runs until Sunday at the Maurice-Richard arena in Montreal.