British Skating Legends

Unsung British heroes of roller speed skating

DENIZE LIPYEAT

DENIZE LIPYEAT - 1979 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS - LEUVEN, BELGIUM

Denize K. Lipyeat (No.13 in the list of female British team members) is the oldest of two daughters born to former British One Mile Champion, Jim Lipyeat, on the 18th April 1963.  The date was significant for two reasons in the Lipyeat household, as not only was it Denize's birthday, but it also marked the fourth anniversary of her father's British Championship winning performance on his home rink, the Herne Bay Pier Pavilion.  Despite having pretty much retired as soon as he won his Championship, Jim still got himself involved in local roller skating activities, predominantly hockey with the Herne Bay United club, but in 1976 decided it was time to put roller speed skating back on the Herne Bay map.  He set up and coached a speed skating team within the club made up of a just a few skaters, most notably the likes of Ian Ashby and Rohan Harlow and, of course, his two daughters, Denize and Helen.

Throughout the 1960's and early '70's racing for junior girls was pretty much a sporadic affair with events being few and far between.  Even the senior ladies did not enjoy equality when it came to events with fewer Championship events than their male counterparts and what tended to be much shorter distances.  Despite having had periods of considerable female success throughout the 1950's and '60's with the likes of Pat Eason, Pat Barnett and, of course, Chloe Ronaldson, compared to most other countries on the continent Britain lagged behind when it came to female racing.  In 1977, however, things began to change.

The recently formed speed section of the Herne Bay United club entered their first race on 23rd January 1977 at the Granby Halls, Leicester.  Amongst them was 13 year old Denize Lipyeat taking part in the junior girls 800 metres handicap for 11 to 15 year olds.  Lipyeat started her first race with a handicap of 50 metres, and although records of her finishing position are not available to us it was evident even at this early stage that this would not be her last race.

On 8th May that year she took part in her first British Championship event, the junior girls 500 metres.  It was the first time that a junior girls British Championship event had been held, despite there having been a boys Championship since 1961.  Lipyeat would finish a close second to North London's Lynn Coles.  Coles had already been skating for a few years and her victory was no surprise, but Lipyeats performance certainly had people taking note.  In fact, just a month later and Lipyeat would get the better of Coles and take a gold medal at an event hosted by the Mercia club at Abbey Park, Leicester.  Lipyeat backed this performance up with another Championship medal, a bronze in the 1000 metres at Southampton just a few months later.

By the end of 1977 the club had dropped the Herne Bay United name for a name more in keeping with the sport, Herne Bay Flyers.  Over the next 15 years the club would emerge as the biggest and most successful club in the country with Lipyeat amongst them.

In 1978 the two junior girls British Championships, the 500 metres and 1000 metres were held on a single day, July 16th, and Lipyeat would come home with gold medals in both.  The season saw Lipyeat emerge as the number one junior girl in the country and it appeared to those around her that she was winning races for fun.  But, of course, Lipyeat was working and training hard to maintain that status.  This was helped not least of all because behind her she had her father coaching and mentoring her but also because being part of an ever growing club with an excellent array of talent meant that the quality of her training was of the highest standard.

In 1979 Lipyeat turned senior.  Her junior adversary Lynn Coles, had turned senior some 12 months earlier but now the pair were reunited to continue their battles on the track.  However, unlike the rivalry between John E. Fry and Mick McGeough or Alison Hartley and Lisa Smith, or even Sutton Atkins and Chris Stafford, there was no needle between Lipyeat and Coles.  In 1979 their friendship was still in its infancy but over the next few years their friendship and mutual respect for each other would be cemented.

Despite not featuring in the British Championships of that year, Lipyeat was selected to represent Great Britain for the first time at the Senior European Championships in Ostende, Belgium.  The senior men had enjoyed considerable success in 1978 with European victories for Fry, McGeough and Mullane, but Britain had not selected a ladies team since 1975.  In June both Lipyeat and Coles were selected alongside three other women skaters whose international careers were nearly all but over.  Pat Eason had first put on a GB shirt in 1954, Chloe Ronaldson in 1960 and Kathy Smith in 1967.  Throughout the Championships the British men continued where they had left off with gold medals once more for Fry and McGeough and Feetham adding to the tally.  Even Jerry McGrath would come home with a medal.  Not to be outdone, though, the ladies of Lipyeat, Coles, Ronaldson and Smith put in a superb performance to secure third place in the final event, the relay, just behind the world class Italians and Belgians.

DENIZE LIPYEAT HELPS CARRY THE FLAG - 1979 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS - OSTENDE, BELGIUM

A few weeks later In August the European Road Championships were held in Leuven, Belgium.  Lipyeat would gain her highest placing of ninth in the 500 metres time trial whilst the relay team comprising of herself, Coles, Ronaldson and Sue Carter (selected in favour of Pat Eason and Kathy Smith) would finish a commendable fourth.  That race marked the end of an era within British female skating that had lasted the best part of 25 years, but now a new era dawned and Lipyeat was very much the spearhead of that.

The World Championships in 1979 were held in September in Como (road) and Finale Emilia (track), Italy, a week apart.  Lipyeat was once again selected and skated every distance.  Her highest placing was 17th in the 10000 metres in Como and 13th in the 3000 metres in Finale Emilia.  Considering that domestic competitions in Britain usually comprised of just one event for women with 5000 metres being the maximum distance (and even then only really raced for during the British Championships) means that Lipyeats performances were all the more notable.

In June 1980 the European Track Championships were held in Spoleto, Italy and with only one woman in the national team it was Coles who would represent Great Britain at these championships, but as the remainder of the 1980 season started to unfold so Lipyeat began to establish herself as Britain's number one female skater. 

On July 18th to 20th the European Championships took place on British soil for the first time since 1938.  Southampton played host to the 1980 European Road Championships and Lipyeat would finish the highest of any of the other four ladies with an excellent 6th in the 500 metres knockout.

On the weekend of 16th and 17th August Lipyeat would win both the 500 metres time trial and the 3000 metres British Championships as well as the 1000 metres Open Handicap Championship for the Vi Kirby Trophy from scratch.  Lipyeat could only manage silver in the 5000 metres with her main rival Coles preventing the clean sweep. 

Whilst the World Championships were not going to be until December due to them being in Masterton, New Zealand, these Championship winning performances alone cemented Lipyeat's place on the team.  Lipyeats performances at World level were again respectable with a highest of 15th in the 3000 metres on the track and 11th in the same event on the road.

DENIZE LIPYEAT SITS IN 4TH PLACE - 1980 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS - MASTERTON, NEW ZEALAND

In 1981 Lipyeat continued where she had left off with regards to her performances, but it was the beginning of a new era with regards to her club.  Lipyeat had always skated for Herne Bay (whether that be as United or Flyers) and had known no other club, but for 1981 she set up her own club, Canterbury Roller Racing Team, and along with sister Helen continued to dominate female speed skating in Great Britain.

On the weekend of May 24th and 25th the Lipyeat sisters shared the spoils in the British Championships at Palmer Park, Reading.  Denize won the 500 metres time trial and 5000 metres, whilst in the 3000 metres and 1000 metres Open Handicap she worked for sister Helen who would win two gold medals of her own.

For the 1981 World Championships in Leuven (road) and Ostende (track) Lipyeat would be the only selected female British skater.  Here she would have her best World Championship performance with 9th on the road in the 500 metres knock-out and a highest placing 12th in the time trial on the track, again competing in all distances.  Unbeknown to Lipyeat at the time, Ostende would be the last time she would compete for Great Britain.  The track where she started her international career would also be the track where it would end.

By 1982 there were other British women skaters all trying to make names for themselves.  Lynn Coles was still close on Lipyeat's heels but so were new names such as Kerry McLaughlan and Sharon Tongue.  In fact the 1982 British Championships were divided up between these four skaters - Coles the 500 metres time trial, McLaughlan the 3000 metres, Lipyeat the 5000 metres and Tongue the now 1500 metres Open Handicap.  Lipyeat's dominance was starting to wane.  Although she had taken a title it was a shock defeat by Coles in the time trial that really bought things home to her and she began to reflect on how much longer she wanted to continue in the sport.  After all, she had been just 13 years old when she had taken to the track and the years of hard training and sacrifice were now being looked upon as a chore rather than an enjoyable experience.

For the European and World Championships in 1982 the NSA decided that it would only select a male team to take part.  This decision was just another reason for Lipyeat to consider her future.  Despite this she continued to train and race, but at a much lesser intensity.  By 1983 her time in the sport was almost up.

At the start of the 1983 season Lipyeat emerged once more in the colours of her old club, Herne Bay Flyers.  On 1st May she again secured another gold medal in a domestic race just ahead of a young Alison Hartley.  Hartley had just turned senior despite being only 15 years old and had given Lipyeat a run for her money.  When the British Championships came around that year Lipyeat decided to give it one more shot.  On 17th July at Palmer Park, Reading, Lipyeat managed a bronze in the 1500 metres behind 15 year old Hartley and ex-team mate Kerry McLaughlan.  A week later she took to the track once more in the very first British Championship 300 metres time trial and won the last of her British titles.

With the gold medal still hanging around her neck Denize Lipyeat called time on her skating career.  She was just 20 years old when she walked away from the sport having won a European bronze medal, six individual British titles and was placed in the top ten in the World.

From the time she stepped onto the track at the age of 13 to the time she stepped off it aged 20, Denize Lipyeat fought hard.  She fought hard to maintain her position as the number one female skater, she fought hard to break into the British team amongst those considered to be irremovable and because of her father and his own speed skating history had fought hard to live up to the name "Lipyeat" within the British skating world.  More recently she has had to fight hard against illness but like those heady days of the early 1980's Denize Lipyeat has come through adversity and will always be considered one of Britain's skating legends.

DENIZE LIPYEAT - FEBRUARY 2012