MILWAUKEE — Since the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Heather Bergsma and Brittany Bowe have combined to win 19 world championship speedskating medals. And one or both women have been on every world championship medal stand in the 1,000-meter since Sochi, with Bergsma the reigning 1,000 world champion.
Now Bergsma and Bowe will have a chance to win their first Olympic medals.
At the Pettit National Ice Center, 28-year-old Bergsma won the 1,000 title at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating in 1:14.83.
“I’m happy to have the first one out of the way,” she said with a quiet smile.
Still trying to return to form from a concussion in July 2016, Bowe, 29, finished second in 1:15.53. The 1,000-meter world champion in 2015 and the only woman to win three individual medals at the 2016 world single distances championships, Bowe missed most of the 2016-17 season while trying to recover from vestibular dysfunction and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), both symptoms of her concussion.
Then Bowe came down with walking pneumonia after the first two world cups in November this season. She is finally “back up and running,” and “had a few really good weeks of training.”
“I trained through trials and am happy to get a berth onto the Olympic team,” Bowe said. “Got a few more races to go this week, then off to Korea.”
PyeongChang will be Bergsma’s third Olympics, Bowe’s second. Both women have yet to win an Olympic medal.
In a tough blow, Mia Manganello — who missed making the 2010 Olympic team, then quit speedskating for cycling before returning in 2016 — came in third in 1:18.23. But she has not met the Olympic qualifying standard of 1:18.00 this year.
Initially, it was thought that she could meet the standard in an ISU race next week in Salt Lake City. But according to US Speedskating rules, she must meet the standard by the end of trials in order to qualify for the Olympic team in the 1,000.
Instead, Jerica Tandiman, who finished fourth in 1:18.59 but met the standard earlier this season, will be nominated for the 1,000 if there’s an open spot on the roster.
Eight men and eight women can qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, and the American women earned three quota spots in the 1,000 in PyeongChang. But the U.S. women earned 13 starting spots total across all distances, so athletes are expected to qualify in multiple distances.
Both Bergsma and Bowe aim to win medals that eluded the U.S. team in Sochi. Competing as Heather Richardson (her maiden name) at the 2014 Games, Bergsma finished seventh in the 1,000, with Bowe a quarter-second behind her in eighth place.
Both women — along with the entire U.S. team — were disappointed. They had gone to Sochi with four world championship medals among them and were favorites to land on the Olympic podium. The last time a U.S. woman had won the 1,000 at the Olympic Games was 2002, when Christine Witty took the gold medal. Jennifer Rodriguez claimed bronze in the same race.
The only saving grace in Sochi: Bergsma’s future husband, Jorrit Bergsma from the Netherlands, won the men’s 10,000 race.
Bergsma married Jorrit after the Sochi Games and moved to the Netherlands where she now trains. Asked how her training has changed, Bergsma said she no longer lifts weights during the season, only in the summer, and she now cycles year-round.
In December, she skipped the fourth world cup to attend a camp in Spain.
“I thought it was good to go to the sun and get some biking in,” she said. “I’m strong now, so I think it worked out.”
Bergsma leads the U.S. with three world cup medals so far this season (and 12 last season), including gold in the 1,000 at the Calgary World Cup in December. She aims to compete in four events at the PyeongChang Games. In addition to the 1,000, she will try for a spot in the 500, 1,500 and mass start (new to the Olympic program in 2018).
Both Bergsmas will compete in Korea. Jorrit is back in the Netherlands and recently qualified for the 2018 Olympic Games.
Bowe aims to compete in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 in PyeongChang. And Bergsma is excited that her American teammate and former roommate has recovered from both her concussion and illness.
“It’s really impressive how fast she’s come back, and I’m really excited because we push each other to the next level all the time,” said Bergsma.
As for Bowe, she was matter-of-fact about what she has gone through since July 2016, when she collided with a teammate on the ice and fell, sustaining a concussion.
“I’ve had to overcome a few battles, a few hurdles, but it’s all part of it,” she said. “Nobody has an easy ride. Everybody has something going on whether everybody knows about it or not. Obviously, my obstacles have been brought up to the limelight. But I guarantee every skater out there has had to overcome something, and we’re all just doing the best we can.”
During a training camp at the Pettit Center after Olympic trials, Bowe hopes to regain even more fitness, so she and Bergsma can once again battle for the podium on the international stage. In 2015 and 2016, the two stood on the podium together seven times at world sprint and single distances world championships.
“Never going to count myself out,” said Bowe. “I definitely want to be back on that stage with Heather battling a couple hundredths, tenths. I don’t like to see my time that far behind. But it is what it is. She’s skating awesome. Hopefully we can both find ourselves on the podium in South Korea.”