KEARNS, Utah -- Looks like Lana Gehring made the right decision.
A 2010 Olympian in short track speedskating, Gehring switched to long track speedskating for two years before reverting back to short track.
It’s a move that worked out well for Gehring, who on Friday night became the first U.S. women’s speedskater to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Gehring kicked off the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Short Track Speedskating exactly how she had hoped: with a win in the first women’s 1,500-meter final of the night. Skating a time of 2:36.212, she beat out 2014 Olympian Jessica Kooreman and Kristen Santos to earn valuable points toward securing her Olympic return.
While two skaters fell in the first final, the second final of the night, just two hours later, would prove far more dramatic. Gehring wound up going down this time around, as did two-time Olympic medalist Katherine Reutter-Adamek and Santos. Though all three were able to get up, the whistle was blown and the race restarted a few minutes later - this time without Reutter-Adamek, who received a penalty for impeding.
"I’m a little riled up about it because I didn’t like why we fell, but for myself it helped me to reset a little bit," Gehring said.
In the re-race, Gehring and Kooreman appeared to cross at the same time, but Kooreman would receive the penalty this time for kicking out. Gehring won, followed by Santos and Biney, securing a spot on her second Olympic team.
"It’s Olympic trials, anything can happen obviously with that race start. So it’s always a surprise and you’re always really thankful for the performances you do have and to get a double win, that’s very hard," she said of her performance on the first day.
Reutter-Adamek wasn't thrilled with her first day of racing, but applauded her 2010 Olympic teammate.
"Look how she picked herself back up and won that race – that’s composure, that’s a true athlete," Reutter-Adamek said. "Obviously I wish I was the one winning with that type of composure, however, I have so much respect for any athlete who can come back and do that after a fall like that."
The 27-year-old Gehring hopes that her return to the Olympics will also mean her return to the Olympic podium.
Eight years ago, she joined Allison Baver, Aly Dudek and Reutter-Adamek in earning bronze in the women’s 3,000-meter relay.
She then missed out on the 2014 Olympic team, so Gehring switched her focus to long track, competing on a 400-meter track instead of 111 meters and racing for time in a lane of her own, as opposed to sharing the ice with as many as six other women and focusing on strategy.
After two years of long track, the Glenview, Illinois, native made the switch back to her true calling of short track earlier this year, making this season’s world cup team and setting personal bests in both the 500 and 1,000. She made it to the 1,500-meter semifinal twice on the world cup stage this season.
"I feel like my overall fitness level is a lot stronger – I was so young, I was only 19," Gehring said, comparing her 2010 Olympic experience. "Coming in here, I’m a little more confident in how I skate. But yeah, I’m just happy that shined through today for sure."
Since the U.S. women were unable to qualify a relay team for PyeongChang, Gehring’s medal hopes will come in the individual events, something she is familiar with, having earned world championship bronze in the 500-meter in 2012 and seven individual world cup medals from 2012-12.
She is now guaranteed a spot in the 1,500-meter at the Games and will hope to add the 500 and 1,000 to her plate this weekend as the competition continues. The U.S. earned two spots in each of the shorter distances, while Gehring will be one of three women competing at 1,500 meters.