Midland, MI - The road to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games gets an early start December 19-20 when the Midland Speed Skating Club hosts the U.S. Junior Championships and the U.S. Junior Olympic Qualifier at the Midland Civic Arena.

Throughout the weekend, top skaters from across the United States will compete for the opportunity to represent Team USA at upcoming international competitions. The event is expected to draw more than 400 volunteers, athletes and spectators to the Midland Civic Arena.

"We are honored that U.S. Speedskating selected Midland to host such prestigious competitions, which allows us to bring such a high-level of competition to the Great Lakes Bay Region," said Rick Trosin, president of the Midland Speed Skating Club, which was established in 1953. "Speed skating has been an important part of our community for a long time, making this a perfect spot for these championship events. We're thrilled to welcome the country's best, and look forward to more opportunities to host such elite competitions in the future."

In U.S. Junior Championship competition, skaters ages 14-18 will compete in a series of three races - 500 meters, 1000 meters and 1500 meters. The top four men and four women overall will represent the United States at the World Junior Short Track Championships to take place in Sofia, Bulgaria on January 29-31, 2016.

In addition, skaters ages 14-15 are eligible to compete for a spot on the U.S. Junior Olympic Team. Based on the results of 500 meter and 1000 meter races, one boy and one girl will be selected to represent Team USA at the Second Youth Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, from February 11-21, 2016.

Among the competitors is Midland's own Grace Trosin, age 15 and a freshman at Midland High School.

"This competition will bring together the best junior skaters that our sport can offer," said Joe Rohraff, Team USA Junior coach, who lives in nearby Freeland, Mich. "Many of these skaters will be hopefuls for the next Winter Olympics in 2018. This is a great opportunity for short track fanatics and casual fans alike to get a ‘sneak peek' at the future of speed skating, and we're very excited for the Midland Speed Skating Club to be part of it."

In short track speed skating, racers push their skills to the limit on a tight, 111-meter oval course laid out on an Olympic-sized hockey rink. Reaching speeds of 30 mph, skaters race in tight packs where disaster is often only inches away.

In addition to the national-level competitions, the MSSC will be hosting its annual WinterBlast competition. The WinterBlast is an opportunity for younger skaters to begin developing their racecraft, while providing experienced skaters a chance to compete in a Masters Division.

"The Midland Speed Skating Club has integrated skating with community outreach programs designed to build confidence and character in boys and girls in the Great Lakes Bay Region for more than 60 years," added Trosin. "It's truly an honor to celebrate the successes of our mission with a national level event being held in such a special place. But none of this would be possible without the collaborative efforts and support of our local sponsors and businesses. I'd especially like to thank the Great Lakes Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau for their tireless efforts to help make this event a reality."

Michigan overall, and the Great Lakes Bay Region in particular, has a tradition of producing Olympic-caliber speed skaters, including Bay City's Alex Izykowski, a bronze medalist at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, and former Midland resident Ryan Bedford, who competed at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Izykowski is now a coach with the U.S. National Team.

"It takes a lot of effort and support to reach the highest levels of competition, from family, coaches, volunteers and sponsors, " said Izykowski. "We are thankful to everyone who has helped make this event a reality and bring such a high-profile event to the community. I am excited to be coming back to where I got started in the sport to help up-and-coming skaters fulfill their dreams."

For more information about the event, or to learn how to become a sponsor, visit the Midland Speed Skating Club website at www.midlandspeedskatingclub.com or contact Lynn Schiel at racingdirector@midlandspeedskatingclub.com.