A Friendship Good As GoldL-R: Brittany Bowe (second), Heather Richardson (first) and Jilleanne Rookard (third) celebrate on the podium after the women's 1,500-meter during the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating at the Utah Olympic Oval on Dec. 31, 2013 in Kearns, Utah.
KEARNS, Utah – After Heather Richardson defeated Brittany Bowe for the third race in a row, she treated her like her roommate, not her rival.
On the victory podium at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating, Richardson handed Bowe the champagne bottle given only to winners so Bowe could pop the cork and spray some bubbly.
“Heather deservedly won every race pretty comfortably this weekend,” Bowe said, “and for her to share that moment with me was really cool and it’s something I’ll cherish. I think it just shows how genuine our friendship is and that we do want the best for each other. Do we both want to win? Absolutely, but to be able to share that together is special as well.”
Richardson won the 1,500 meters — a race in which Bowe was favored — on Tuesday with a time of 1 minute, 54.19 seconds. Bowe, skating one pair later at the Utah Olympic Oval, came in at 1:54.96. Richardson also won the 500 and 1,000 with Bowe the runner-up, and both are considered Olympic medal contenders in Sochi.
“You know she beat me three times in the fall,” Richardson said of Bowe, whom she’s known since they were children competing in inline races. “We’re going back and forth, it’s all fun.”
Jilleanne Rookard, who won the 3,000 on the first day of competition, took third in the 1,500.
Shani Davis won the men’s 1,500, the first step on his quest to upgrade from the two silver medals he won in the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Davis, who is the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1,000, posted a time of 1:43.20, followed by Brian Hansen at 1:43.70, Joey Mantia at 1:44.41 and Jonathan Kuck at 1:45.29.
Richardson and Davis secured their nominations to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, while the others are expected to be formally nominated to the team on Jan. 1, 2014.
“Hopefully I can be at my best in February,” Davis said. “I would like to think that I’m still a work in progress, but my finished product hopefully should be better than what you saw today.”
He said the 1,500 is the most painful of the five races because it is a mix of sprinting and endurance. However, it holds a special place in his heart because the first junior race he won was a 1,500.
“I’ve always kind of been a favorite to win it, but somehow, some way it evades me at the Olympics,” Davis said, “and it just gives me that much more motivation to strive for and perfect.”
He said he has to be really fit for the 1,500 and “not give in when my legs start talking to me.
“They’re saying, ‘Shani! We’re hurting. Can you ease up a little bit? Slow down a bit? Can you just raise up on your hip a little bit?’ And I have to say. ‘No! That’s why we train four to six hours a day.’”
Bowe has also learned to skate through the discomfort. “The pain is worth it and the pain will continue to be worth it, and hopefully it earns me a spot on the podium in Sochi,” she said.
Bowe was sitting on her couch watching the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on television when she saw her old friend Richardson compete. That inspired her to give speedskating a try. At the time, Bowe was a senior point guard for Florida Atlantic University. Coincidentally, she set her career high with a 24-point performance against Troy while the 2010 Games were going on in Vancouver.
“I never got close to dreaming about the Olympics on the basketball court,” Bowe said “When I saw the 2010 Vancouver Games on the TV, it just really lit a fire and I knew I needed to make the switch to ice to make my Olympic dream come true.”
She misses basketball, including the team aspect of the sport.
“I always loved to have the ball in my hands,” Bowe said. “I loved to be the director, but out here, I just get to direct myself. I’m just responsible for myself, my actions.”
While basketball players have 40 minutes to make or break them, a 500-meter race lasts just 37 seconds. “So it’s pretty cutthroat,” Bowe said, “completely different, but awesome.”
She moved to Salt Lake City in July 2010, where she got on the ice for the first time.
|Heather Richardson sprays Brittany Bowe with champagne on the
podium after the women's 1,000-meter during the 2014 U.S.
Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating at the Utah
Olympic Oval on Dec. 29, 2013 in Kearns, Utah.
“I’m very lucky to have her,” Richardson said. “She pushes me in training just like I push her.”
Richardson added that they always talk to each other after races. “We congratulate each other and go home and hang out.”
Richardson and Bowe share a home in Park City with Sugar Todd and Mitchell Whitmore. Whitmore is a nominee to the Olympic team in the 500, while Todd is expected to be nominated in the 500 and 1,000.
“We were all nervous going into these trials and now that we have all that pressure off, I think it’ll be a more fun atmosphere,” said Richardson, whose fiancé is Dutch speedskater Jorrit Bergsma. “We’re not so stressed. We all root for each other in each race. Mitch is really good at being down in this corner (at the Utah Olympic Oval) for all of us girls, so it’s really nice.”
When she misses the mild weather back home in High Point, N.C., Richardson said, “We just got a hot tub put in our house in Park City and I was the first one in all by myself. I just try to stay warm as much as possible.”
If Bowe gets homesick, she can talk to Mantia, who is also a former inline skater from Ocala, Fla., in only his third competitive season.
“We’re just a dime a dozen right now,” he said of Florida speedskaters. “We had a really good coach growing up, and it shows. I’m so proud of Brittany and now I’ll be able to join her, so it’s going to be a really cool journey.”
Bowe said that of seven women so far who are expected to be nominated to the Olympic team, five have inline roots.
“It's unfortunate that inline doesn't get a ton of recognition,” she said, “but without that none of us would be here. Half of us are from the South and never even heard of ice skating, but it was definitely a nice gateway to making our dreams come true and I'm forever grateful for that.”
Rookard, another inline veteran, said she’s not surprised that Richardson and Bowe are so close. “They’ve been that way since they were 10 years old,” she said. “All of us have known each other; we’ve watched each other crash and burn or have success. Even though (now we are) at a top level, it shouldn’t stop us from being proud of each other.”
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 13 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.