MILWAUKEE — It’s been a long road for Mia Manganello. Longer than most, especially after a five-year detour to road cycling.
Now the 28-year-old speedskater-turned-cyclist-turned-speedskater can finally call herself an Olympic team member. At the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating, she finished third in the women’s 1,500-meter and locked up a spot.
“I was pretty much tearing up going to the line knowing that if I just go out and skated the best I could, to my potential, that I would make it,” she said, happily clutching the plush red-white-and-blue robe that Olympic qualifiers are receiving this year. “Luckily the day came that I can finally be an Olympian.”
At the top of results, it was the same Bowe-Bergsma Show that the crowd witnessed in the 500 and 1,000 earlier this week.
Brittany Bowe won the 1,500 in 1:55.92, and Heather Bergsma — the reigning world champion in the 1,500 and current world-record holder at the distance — finished a close second in 1:56.12.
“It’s always nice to come out on top,” said Bowe. “It’s a confidence booster for sure. When we’re racing each other, that level of competition raises the intensity level, gets that adrenaline going a little more. We both want to win those races, and it feels really good to come out on top today. I know the next time we’re on the ice together, she’s going to have some more fire in her. Myself and everybody else better beware. But I’m ready for it.”
Manganello was another three-plus seconds back in 1:59.28. But it was enough for third place and a coveted spot on the 2018 Olympic team.
It was a relief for Manganello, who finished second in the 3,000 on Tuesday night, missing the one quota spot in that event to winner Carlijn Schoutens.
Then Wednesday night, she finished third in the 1,000. That result should have put her on the team. But she had missed meeting the Olympic qualifying time by 0.23 seconds. She left the Pettit National Ice Center that night knowing there was no chance of making the team in that event.
“After the 1,000, it was extremely hard to come out of that one,” she admitted. “But luckily I had a couple days’ buffer before the 1,500 today. Again, it just goes back to knowing that if I just let it go, skated in the moment, that it was possible.”
Her 1,500 time of 1:56.57 at the world cup in Salt Lake City in mid-December is well under the qualifying standard of 1:59.50.
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Manganello’s speedskating career dates back farther than the current Olympic quadrennial. An inline skater as a child growing up in Florida, she tested the ice when she was 13 in Salt Lake City. On the drive home from the Utah Olympic Oval, she decided to switch sports. So Manganello packed up and moved to Utah. It was 2002.
At the 2006-07 junior national championships, she won three gold medals and a silver, then made the world cup team the following season. She had her eye on the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
But the year prior to Olympic trials, she had “a coaching situation.” Her motivation dwindled, and she missed qualifying for the Vancouver Games.
“At that moment, I was completely devastated, but instead of being a motivated devastation, it was kind of a …,” she paused. “I just wanted to give up.”
Manganello took a break from speedskating and the following year picked up competitive cycling. Competing for the Visit Dallas DNA Pro Cycling Team, she did respectably well in national-level multi-day stage races. But she found cycling difficult. While speedskating is an individual sport, cycling is a team sport, where “domestiques” sacrifice their chances for their team leader.
In the fall of 2015, her boyfriend at the time convinced her to get on the ice again.
“I had always talked about [speedskating], I always critiqued the skaters at the time and compared myself and what I could be,” Manganello said. “He finally talked me into trying it again.”
She dabbled in it, and the joy quickly returned. She was committed to her cycling team though, so raced one more season in 2016. She racked up more middle-of-the-pack finishes in some bigger national races. And at the five-day Cascade Cycling Classic in Oregon, she claimed the green points jersey (won by sprinters). But her mind was on the ice.
In the fall of 2016, she put more effort into speedskating training and her personal bests started to drop.
“I was hooked again and knew that there was potential to fulfill that dream,” she said.
Manganello qualified for the world cup and world championship teams last year. At the 2017 world single distances championships, she finished 14th in the 1,500. In the beginning of the 2018 Olympic season, she competed in distances from 1,500 to the 5,000 and the mass start as well.
On the opening night of Olympic trials, she missed qualifying for the 3,000 by 1.70 seconds. Then Wednesday night, her fortunes seemed to improve when she finished third in the 1,000 in 1:18.23, but she did not have the qualifying time.
Manganello had to let it go. She knew that she had to take trials day by day.
“I think to be at this level in the sport, and specifically this sport where you can be good at multiple distances, you have to be able to let stuff go,” she said after the 1,000 on Wednesday. “You can’t dwell on it. I definitely dwelled on it yesterday [after the 3,000], a couple tears. But you have to realize that there are more opportunities to come and let that show up.”
Her opportunity came in the 1,500. She skated in the final pair and knew what time she had to hit. She is also hoping to qualify for the mass start race Sunday.
The U.S. women last won an Olympic medal in the 1,500 at the 2002 Games when Jennifer Rodriguez won a bronze medal.
As Manganello climbed onto the 1,500 podium to accept her medal, her smile said it all.
“It wasn’t the first time that I’ve been up there [this week],” she said. “But it was the first time that I knew hands down that I’d made the team.”
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With Bowe and Bergsma qualifying for the 2018 Olympics in three events (500, 1,000 and 1500), Jerica Tandiman also officially made the team going to PyeongChang. The 23-year-old finished fourth in the 1,000 on Wednesday night. But with Manganello, in third, not meeting the Olympic qualifying standard, the spot went to Tandiman.
From Kearns, Utah, Tandiman began speedskating in 2002 because the Utah Olympic Oval was built in the field next to her house. She has competed at long track junior world championships five times, and at the world sprint championships last year.
PyeongChang will mark Tandiman’s first Olympic Games.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.