Thinking Outside the Box: An Interview with Olympic Speedskater KC Boutiette

Thinking Outside the Box: An Interview with Olympic Speedskater KC Boutiette

Coming fresh off their respective World Records set in Calgary, former inline skaters Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe are hoping for more podium-worthy races at the ISU Long Track Speedskating World Cup this weekend in Salt Lake City. But did you know that another former inline skater will be skating the World Cup as well—one who dominated the inline scene before either Richardshon or Bowe were old enough to lace up their first pair of speedskates? KC Boutiette was one of the first speed skaters to make the transition from inline to the ice, and was influential in paving the way for many other inliners to cross over, including Derek Parra, Jennifer Rodriguez, Chad Hedrick, and Joey Cheek. And if you’re lucky enough, you can still catch KC training at the Utah Olympic Oval, skating with the next generation of athletes hoping to follow in his footsteps. Today, we look back with KC over his skating career, and discuss the contributions he’s made to the sport of speedskating.  

That First Bus Ride to Wisconsin

In 1993, when KC was just 23 years old and dominated the inline scene, he boarded a bus in Fort Collins, Colorado, and rode the 30 hours to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He arrived in Milwaukee with the goal of using the ice for cross-training purposes. Little did he know that a mere six weeks later, he would earn a spot on the 1994 US Olympic Speedskating Team. He says, “[I had] no thought of ever making the Olympic Team, or even transitioning to the ice long-term. I’d never even stepped foot on the ice. It was for cross training, and that was it….Milwaukee was the ‘Ice Mecca’ of the world—that’s what I thought. I mean, I was coming from the inline world where you go to roller rinks and skate practice, you laugh, and you have fun. But when I got to Milwaukee, I found out that speed skating was a serious sport, and everybody was in their little niche groups. I was just a 23-year-old kid who didn’t know that to expect.”

Watching a Video, Making the Olympic Team

After spending more and more time on the ice, KC’s technique began to improve. He says, “I started picking it up and getting faster and faster. But I was still watching sprinters like Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, who were taking these long, powerful strokes…and it just wasn’t working [for me]….So one night, when we were at Ryan Shimabukuro’s house two weeks before trials, I saw a video of Johann Olaf Koss at the World Championships. And I thought, ‘That’s it! I’ve gotta skate like that.’ [So] I borrowed the video, and I watched it over and over and over. I focused on what Koss was doing and how he was skating, and I tried to imitate him. And literally, within three days after I got that video, coaches started recognizing a difference. And that’s when my lap times started getting faster. I didn’t even know what I was doing—I was just trying to do what Koss was doing.”

KC skated good enough at the 1994 Olympic Trials to make the Olympic Team, and Lillehammer was his first experience skating internationally. He says, “Lillehammer was a great experience, because it was all just kind of a whirlwind. I roomed right across from DJ. And just for me to be there and to learn—to see what it was all about…I had a great time.”    

The Inline to Ice Movement

Following Lillehammer, KC returned to the inline circuit and won the 100km World Championships. However, he eventually found himself burned out from doing both inline and speed skating, because “your body can’t go hard all the time, and that’s what I was doing.” He says that although skating inline was where the money was, he eventually made the complete switch over to the ice, because “I was pretty darn good at it, and I enjoyed it. It was a hard decision for me to make, because the inlines supported me financially. But at the time, it was just too different from the ice. And training on the ice was killing me on the inlines.”

KC would go on to compete in three more Olympic Winter Games, including Nagano, Salt Lake City, and Torino. He has been called the “Pioneer of the Inline-to-Ice Movement”, because he was one of the first to cross over to the ice and find success. He says, “The impact I feel that I had on the ice was just to put out the feelers. To show that we—not just inline skaters, but somebody else—could speedskate, without having to live in Milwaukee. There’s such a wide spectrum of people who skate now. And what’s really cool is that they come from different countries. Now everybody’s realizing that they can have a chance to go to the Olympics.”

Marathon Speed Skating

Though you’re probably aware that KC was influential in bringing many inline skaters over to the ice, one thing you probably don’t know is that KC is also in accomplished marathon skater. In 2003 and 2004, he won the Greenery Six—a marathon race held in the Netherlands. He says, “The Greenery Six is the ‘Tour of Holland’, pretty much. You race in six different venues, in seven races total. A lot of people think it’s not that hard, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, because it’s a marathon every day. When you first start, there’s a 100 guys on the line. And by the last day, there are only 50. It’s just brutal, because the ice is really bad.”
KC enjoys skating marathons, because they involve both strategy and team skating—two things he excels at. “The difference between long track and marathon speedskating is the tactics [involved]. Marathon skating is just exciting. And over in the Netherlands, they just get it. They get the strategy, they get everything. And over here, we just don’t.”

Rocket 7

Something else you may not know is that KC also owns and operates Rocket7—a company that does handmade, custom cycling shoes right here in the U.S. He says, “My buddy Brian King is the one who got Rocket7 to where it is. Way back in the late 90’s, he started making inline boots, and eventually switched to cycling shoes. And that’s when the company started to take off. Well, one day he called me and said, ‘I’m going to shut Rocket7 down. Do you want to run it?’ But it wasn’t until about a year later that I loaded up everything and shipped it all from Washington State down to Miami, and set up shop.

“The thing about making custom cycling shoes is that it’s a neat craft. I love working with my hands. Rocket7 is starting to catch some steam again, and we’re starting to play around with some inline boots. We [eventually] want to do cross country ski boots as well. And what’s cool about the company is that we’re helping people that really need the custom shoes we offer. You know, their feet are jacked up, or they have wide feet, or whatever. And we’re helping them. I really enjoy that part of the business.”

On Being True to Yourself

If there’s one thing that KC has done throughout his skating career, it’s being true to himself. He says, “I’ve always spoken my mind, and people like me for that—for being an original person. A lot of people have told me, ‘It’s nice that you’re here. It kind of lightens up the mood, because everybody’s so into what they’re doing. Me doing my own thing in the beginning is actually what got me more accepted by a lot of people, because they knew I wasn’t fake. And I’ve never been in it just for myself. If I was in it just for myself, I wouldn’t have brought over one skater. And I’ve brought over a lot of skaters.

“There are a lot of skaters that I’m skating with right now that want to be where I’m at. Some skaters see me and they’re like, ‘Who is this old guy?’ But then they see me and say, ‘Holy crap, can he skate!’ They figure out who I am, and then they respect me and want to learn from me. A lot of people look at me as a pioneer. But I still look at myself as just a guy who did something different.”

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