Even Fourth Is Sweet
KEARNS, Utah – The results were both sweet and a little sour on the second day of racing at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating.
To no one’s surprise, Heather Richardson and Mitchell Whitmore won the 500-meter races Saturday, clinching their nominations for the U.S. Olympic Team, pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.
The sweet came in the form of Sugar Todd, who was so thrilled to finish fourth in the women’s 500 that she was bouncing up and down.
“It’s kind of immeasurable joy,” said the skater, whose given name is Sugar Raeshelle-Faye Chelsea Todd.
The sour was Jonathan Garcia, who would have finished fourth in the men’s 500 if he hadn’t forgotten to wear his timing chips. He was disqualified after skating a personal best time. Although Garcia was allowed to skate again 30 minutes later, his time was almost half a second slower and Shani Davis moved into position to potentially make his fourth Olympic team.
“Unfortunately, it was my mistake,” Garcia said. “That’s just how life goes sometimes.”
At the trials, fourth is as good as first in some events because it can mean the difference between going to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and staying home.
Team USA qualified for four entries in each 500 — part of its 16 quota spots in the five men’s distances and 14 in the five women’s distances — but can send a maximum of 10 men and 10 women to Sochi. With some athletes doubling and tripling, all of the quota spots are expected to be filled when the team is named on Jan. 1, 2014.
|Jonathan Garcia cools down after competing in race two of the
men's 500-meter during the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for
Long Track Speedskating at the Utah Olympic Oval on
Dec. 28, 2013 in Kearns, Utah.
Garcia had a time of 35.19 seconds in the first round of the 500, improving to 34.85 in the second race, according to the electronic timing and photo-finish systems. The timing chips, also called transponders, are used as a third backup if the other methods fail. Davis clocked 35.15 in his first race, 35.06 in his second.
“If someone’s clearly faster than me, then they deserve it,” said Davis, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1,000, “and it’s really unfortunate that that rule worked to his disadvantage today. I’m happy that I kind of made the team, but I’m kind of sad because he skated the race of his life and this is really unfortunate.”
Garcia had one more chance. Skating by himself before a cheering crowd at the Utah Olympic Oval, he had a time of 35.33 to place sixth overall.
“I remember the special feeling I had when I went (to the Games) the first time,” Davis said, “and I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and make the spot even if it knocked me off the team, because he’s a friend of mine and I clearly want the best skater to go.”
Garcia has another chance in the 1,000 meters on Sunday, where the U.S. also has four quota spots for Sochi.
“I’m upset, but more than anything I’m happy,” said Garcia. “The transponders are the third thing they use for timing, so the time was accurate. Technically, they can take it away from me, but at the same time I did it. So I know that I was good enough to be on the team. That’s something that nobody can take away from me.”
Garcia was 14th overall in the 2010 Olympic trials in short track speedskating before switching to long track.
He said his disqualification was “not so cool, but the rules are the rules. I knew the rules before the race and I was just in the zone and I was thinking about everything that was kind of in my control and I forgot to put them on.”
Whitmore, who had the fastest times in both men’s 500 races of 34.41 and 34.71 seconds, said Garcia skated an “amazing race.”
“If it was up to me, I would have picked him because he went faster, but rules are rules and it’s what you’ve got to do,” said Whitmore, who placed 37th in the 500 at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Tucker Fredricks was second in both races while Brian Hansen finished third. They joined Whitmore as the only men clocking under 35 seconds. Fredricks is poised to go to his third Olympic Winter Games, while Hansen was a silver medalist in team pursuit in Vancouver.
“It still feels awesome (to make an Olympic team),” Fredricks said. “A lot of my friends made the team. They’ve been working really hard at it. To see them succeed is really exciting. It makes me very happy, even more happy than I am for myself.”
Richardson and Brittany Bowe were the only female skaters to post times under 38 seconds in the 500. They were paired together in both races. Richardson skated 37.10 in the first, 37.09 in her second, while Bowe had times of 37.90 and 37.61.
Richardson made her second Olympic team while it will be the first for Bowe.
Lauren Cholewinski, a 2010 Olympian, was third. All three are former inline skaters.
Richardson said she tells inline skaters who make the transition to ice that “it just takes time. You just have to get used to the feeling because I know I was in the same boat. I wasn’t skating very fast the first few weeks. I was ready to go home even. So if you just stick to it, and keep training hard you’ll be on top again.”
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 13 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.