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U.S. Roller Sports Athletes Have High Hopes For Pan Am Podium In Toronto

By B.A. Marseille | July 10, 2015, 4:42 p.m. (ET)

Sara Sayasane (R) competes in the woman's 1,000-meter in the 2011 XVI Pan American Games at Pan American Roller Skating Track on Oct. 27, 2011 in Ciudad Guadalajara, Mexico.

John Burchfield is the lone skater with Pam Am credentials amidst a group of six athletes who will represent Team USA in roller sports from July 11-13 during the 2015 Pan American Games.

Burchfield and world championship medalist Courtney Donovan in figure skating, and four speed skaters are slated to compete in Toronto.

Burchfield seeks his first medal after finishing fourth in the event at the 2011 Pan Ams in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“I was a lot younger at the time and that was four years ago,” Burchfield said. “I’ve grown so much more. I’m a lot stronger now. I’ve got four more years of training. And I’ve been there before.”

Colombia and Brazil are favored in figure skating for the Toronto Games, having dominated the field the last few years. U.S. figure coach Vicki Bateman, who’s trained the 22 year-old Burchfield since he was 7 said she believes her pupil has a good shot at making the podium.

“John competed in the Games four years ago, so he has a little more experience than [Donovan],” said Bateman. “But both of the athletes have placed at the world championships already, so it can happen for either one of them.”

Figure skating athletes wear roller skates with four wheels (two in front, two at the back) and are judged on planned routines, or programs. They are given two scores, one for technical merit and another for manner of performance. Jumps, spins, body control and footwork are weighed in the technical merit score. Manner of performance analyzes the athlete's poise and showmanship throughout a routine.

Unlike figure skaters, speed skaters don inline skates with all wheels in one line. Athletes face off in three individual events: 200-meter time trial, 500 sprint and 10,000 points race.

The time trial times each participant individually, and the fastest time wins the event. During the sprint pack race, the first- and second-place skaters from each heat advance to the next round until the field funnels down to four skaters for the final. The speed skating competition ends with elimination points race.

In the hunt for gold, Team USA will have to beat the dominant Colombian team that took home five out of six possible gold medals in speed skating events at the 2011 Pan Am Games.

On the men’s side, Team USA will be represented by Colombia-native Mario Valencia, along with Jarrett Paul. Erin Jackson and 2013 world championship silver medalist Darian O’Neal will represent the women.

Jackson is fresh off of a gold medal win at the 2014 Pan American Championships in the 500-meter event. The 22-year-old sprinter has competed in the country’s Pan Am qualifier twice, but this year marks her first appearance.

“I just graduated from college, and since then I’ve had more time to train,” Jackson said. “I’m ready to do it. I’m usually just pretty calm, and just having fun with racing.”

U.S. speed coach Renee Hildebrand has trained Jackson personally the last 10 years.

“All four skaters that I’m taking have a good chance to get on the podium,” Hildebrand said. “They’re all pretty tough mentally."

B. A. Marseille is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

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Erin Jackson