Skates Took Fredricks To Top Of The World
For Tucker Fredricks, speedskating simply seemed like a fun, new sport to try because it was pretty clear he was fast on hockey skates.
By the time he and his family realized he had a chance to be pretty good, they wondered if it might someday afford him the opportunity to travel to one international destination.
It’s safe to say any and all early expectations were far exceeded.
Over 20 years, speedskating continually took Fredricks around the world. He competed in the Olympics three times. He won a pair of overall World Cup championships. He met his wife, with whom he now has two children.
And Fredricks continues to go places. Now an instructor in Salt Lake City, he’ll come home to Janesville next month to be enshrined in the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame.
He joins Ernie Furrer, Curt McGinness, Tony Huml and Cathy and Gerry Luiting in the 2017 class, which will be inducted as part of the 28th annual event May 6 at the Janesville Country Club. And Fredricks will join his mother, Shawn, an endurance athlete who was inducted into the hall in 2014.
“It’s quite an honor,” Fredricks said this week. “My mom was inducted a couple years back, and I thought that was pretty amazing. This came a little out of nowhere and caught me by surprise, but it’s really neat.”
The entire sport caught him by surprise when he was about 8 years old. Fredricks started skating when he was just 2 years old but grew up playing hockey, where he was undersized but faster that just about anyone on the ice.
After winning a “fastest skater” skills competition during a weekend tournament that included players from Chicago, Fredricks’ father, Dan, connected with the Madison Speedskating Club and set up an opportunity for Tucker to try speedskating for the first time.
“I got out (of hockey) just in time before we could start checking; I probably would’ve got destroyed out there,” Tucker laughed. “I was probably 8 or 9, and I honestly didn’t even know what it was, but my dad said, ‘We’re going to go try speedskating.’
“I was like, ‘Is that the thing where you put your hand on the ice?’ I did remember maybe watching some short track on TV, probably during the Olympics.
“I remember getting up there and not wanting to give up my hockey skates.”
It didn’t take long for Fredricks to turn in the hockey blades for good.
“As Tucker grew up, Shawn and I just had him try everything. There was no predisposed idea of what sport he might want to do,” Dan Fredricks said. “Right off the bat people always said he had really good skating technique. He did a lot of free skating at the Janesville Ice Arena on Saturdays and Sundays … and I think he just worked on it and had a pretty good foundation.
“Eventually, we thought if he got lucky he might make one junior team and he’d get one trip out of the United States out of it. That was our hope.”
By high school, Tucker was taking the sport very seriously, traveling to Milwaukee to train at the Pettit National Ice Center five times a week.
The 2002 Craig High graduate’s work paid off when he made the U.S. world junior team in 2001 as an alternate. He won bronze in the 500 meters at the World Junior Championships one year later, and in 2003 accomplished one of his crowning achievements when he captured gold at worlds.
“I speedskated because I enjoyed it and because I like the people that were around and in it. It’s kind of just a big family of a lot of different people from a lot of different areas,” Tucker Fredricks said. “I moved out to Salt Lake, and I thought, ‘I’m just speedskating, so I need to take it seriously.’
“It wasn’t that I didn’t take it seriously before. I loved competing and I loved to win, but that’s when I really, really started to take it seriously.”
Fredricks was 21 at that time. The 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, were approaching.
Known not only for his technique but his very fast starts, Fredricks beat out a great class to skaters in the 500 meters to make the Olympic team.
“I had just waited so long for it, that I just had this big smile on my face and said to myself, ‘Finally,’” Fredricks said of his reaction to making his first Olympic team. “I had spent a huge portion of my life speedskating, and that was one of my goals. It was overwhelming. And my team was really supportive and really happy, and that really made me happy.”
Fredricks attended the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Olympic Games for the only time in his career.
“My race was always just a day or two after the ceremonies, and it’s a pretty long process (to go to the opening),” Fredricks said. “But just walking into the stadium with the crowd cheering was, to me, like my Super Bowl.”
Fredricks finished 25th in the 500 at Turin. He is one of just two people born and raised in Janesville to ever compete in the Olympics. Lawrence Hough, the other, was inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
Fredricks’ biggest stretch of international success came in the years following. He won his first World Cup championship in 2007 (he also won in 2010) at an event where his dad served as an international official.
In all, he won 30 World Cup medals in the 500, including 11 golds.
At a World Cup event in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on Nov. 17, 2007, he set a U.S. record in the 500, skating in 34.31 seconds to beat the mark of another standout speedskater from Wisconsin, Casey FitzRandolph.
“It was kind of special (to officiate the meet where he won his first world championship) and to be there,” Dan Fredricks said. “And the Olympics were always fun.”
Tucker qualified for the 2010 Games in Vancouver and posted his best Olympic finish, taking 10th in the 500. And he made it back again in 2014 to Sochi, Russia, where he took 25th.
“I was extremely lucky, because some people are done at 18 or 19 (years old) and some are done at 24, and there’s a few that can keep going,” Fredricks said. “I was pretty proud that I was able to stick with it and enjoy it and compete as long as I could.”
Ask him about his proudest achievement, though, and he really can’t pick just one.
“On certain days of my life I was better than anyone else in the world at something,” Fredricks said. “Speedskating is a really obscure sport. But I think, to me, my parents put me into a situation where they let me excel at something. And to be able to be one of the best in the world, and on certain days the best, I thought that was pretty cool.
“Other than that, it’s just really mostly about the opportunities I had the people I met.”
And now Fredricks is working to give others some of those same opportunities.
He met his wife, Eriko, while traveling the world for competitions. Eriko was a two-time Olympic speedskating qualifier out of Japan. Together they now have two young children, Sena who is nearly 3 years old and Koa who is 10 months. Fredricks said Sena has already laced up skates a couple times.
And Fredricks now works as a coach at the Olympic Oval in Salt Lake, training some of the country’s top up-and-coming skaters.
“I was really lucky to get an opportunity to coach here,” Fredricks said. “I’ve always kind of had coaching in the back of my mind. I just wanted to give back and give kids an opportunity to do the same things that I had the opportunity to do.”
From his family to the Olympics to coaching, speedskating has taken Fredricks places he likely never dreamed of when skating at the Janesville Ice Arena.
“I’ve told people many times that that ice arena is for two things—for recreation and for hope,” Dan Fredricks said. “Everybody down there says, ‘What if my kid can become a hockey player for the Badgers?’ or something like that. The hockey players have a chance; the skaters have a chance.
“Janesville’s athletics offer kids a lot of opportunities. We’re very thankful that Janesville supported the ice arena, because that’s what got Tucker going.”
It’ll come full circle—or oval, perhaps, for Fredricks—when he returns to Janesville next month to become a Hall of Famer.
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