Among the many events that had to pivot on short notice because of pandemic restrictions was USA Judo’s Youth National Championships.
USA Judo, Utah Sports Commission and Visit Salt Lake moved the gathering from 2020 to April 2021, but in February, the original site, Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace Convention Center, said it wouldn't be able to accommodate without severe restrictions.
USA Judo asked the two tourism agencies for help finding a new venue, and the town’s Utah Olympic Oval stepped up and out of its speedskating comfort zone to the rescue. According to Clay Partain, managing director of Sports Salt Lake, Visit Salt Lake and the Utah Sports Commission supplied grants to make the transition possible, and Salt Lake County Health Department provided the event’s testing coverage.
Utah Olympic Oval general manager Todd Porter and his staff went to great lengths to prepare the Oval for the event, said Partain. The location is the headquarters of US Speedskating, and in the winter, the 5-acre building with a suspension roof boasts two international-size hockey rinks, a 400-meter skating oval and a 442-meter running track.
“Every season around the end of March we remove the 400-meter ice surface,” said Porter. “This leaves us a lot of underutilized space. I am always looking for new ways to use this space and time of year.”
Porter said the event dates coincided with a lighter stretch in US Speedskating’s training regimen. He and his staff removed the Oval ice the week of March 28, which left April open for events, like a figure skating competition, an Angel’s Hands Hockey Tournament and judo.
Five hundred bleacher seats awaited judo attendees, and Porter and Partain deemed the site switch and the event successful.
“Our facility was prepped and ready for [USA Judo] to load in and out without disruptions,” said Porter. “We were prepared to meet their needs and add assistance where we could. This relieves a lot of stress on organizers when they are prepping their event. When athletes arrive and the facility is ready to go and the event runs smoothly without any delay on our part and the athletes can just focus on competition, that is success.”
"There is really no limitation on what this amazing facility can do or accomplish,” Partain said. “I could not help but smile as we watched judo matches taking place directly over where the world’s fastest ice normally resides.”
Photos courtesy of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation.