Dave Silk is one of the most accomplished athletes Butte has ever produced.
He’s a two-time Olympic speedskater and a World Cup Champion. A member of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame, Silk was named the 34th best Montana athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.
Saturday in Salt Lake City, Silk will be inducted into the U.S. Speedskating Hall of Fame.
To think, Silk just might owe all those accomplishments to a neighborhood friend.
Beth McCaslin, a girl who lived near Silk on A Street, introduced him to the sport around the time Silk was a first grader.
“She got me into skating and introduced me to MASSA,” Silk says, referring to the Montana Amateur Speed Skating Association. “It kind of took off from there. If it weren’t for the neighbor, I don’t think I would have gotten into it.”
Silk, 46, who is an emergency room doctor at St. James Healthcare, was a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 1984 and 1988. He was an alternate on the ’84 team in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. He competed for the U.S. in the Calgary games, placing sixth in the 5,000 meters, 14th in the 10,000 and 15th in the 1,500.
He actually entered those ’88 games in a slump. Silk says he probably over trained that year.
“I guess I got one good race in the Olympics,” Silk says. “That was good because heading into the Olympics I was skating horrendously.”
Silk recalls a practice when coach Mike Crowe gave him some advice that he thought he would never hear.
“I remember about three weeks before the Olympics we were training in Butte,” Silk says. “Mike told me, ‘Take your skates off, go home and don’t come back for a week.’ I was flabbergasted. It was kind of a last-ditch effort to try to turn things around. I skated pretty well at the end of the season.”
Silk ended that 1988 season with a gold medal in the 1,500 meters at the World All-Round Championships in Medeo, Russia. He won the bronze overall when a fall in the 10,000 just might have cost him the overall title.
Silk won the 1985 silver medal in the 10,000 at the All-Round Championships in Hamar, Norway. There he placed sixth overall.
The 1986 season was a big one for Silk. He won the World Cup season championship in the 5,000/10,000. He placed third in the 1,500.
Silk also placed fifth overall in the World All-Round Championships in Inzell, Germany
“I had my good years,” Silk says. “I had a good run. I don’t consider myself a flash in the pan.”
Silk will be inducted along with Chris Witty, who won gold in the women’s 1,000 in the 2002 Salt Lake Games, and Joey Cheek, who won gold in the 500 in the 2006 Turin Games.
“I’m going to be kind of the low man on the totem pole,” Silk jokes. “I’m going to be inducted with two gold medal winners. I feel like I’m squeaking in.”
Saturday’s honor will be the latest in a long line of speedskating honors Silk has raked in. He started winning trophies and medals at a feverish pace right from the start. He was a legend on the Stodden Park oval by the time he graduated from Butte High in 1984.
Silk went to nationals for the first time in 1977. He won his first medal there in 1979. He won the four gold medals and claimed the all-around title at nationals in 1982.
Silk competed in the Junior World Championship in Sarajevo in 1983, placing 25th overall.
He competed on the national stage through the 1990 season.
Nowadays, Silk can still be found hanging around the oval at the U.S. High Altitude Sports Center.
His first-grade twins — Will and Autumn — apparently take after their father on skates. The young Silks dominated the School Skating Races in January, leading Hillcrest to the team title.
“They’ve been at it for a few years,” Silk says of his children. “I think they were 3 when they started.”
Maybe someday the young Silks will become legends on Sports Center oval they way their dad was at Stodden.
Maybe they’ll be Olympians like their dad. Maybe one day, they’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
If they do, they just might owe it all to their dad’s neighborhood friend.
“It was really my neighbor who got me skating,” Silk says. “I didn’t even know it existed.”