MILWAUKEE — Joey Mantia has described long track speedskating’s mass start race as NASCAR on ice.
Or for Olympic aficionados, it’s more like a track cycling points race. The mass start is 16 laps around the 400-meter speedskating oval, with a couple dozen skaters vying for sprint points every four laps. The first three across the finish line make the podium, while the rest of the finishers are determined by the intermediate sprint points. Unlike other long track races, where skaters wear hooded speedsuits, competitors wear helmets in the mass start.
The event makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang this year, and the U.S. earned two spots for that race.
Mantia, the reigning mass start world champion, came to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating as the favorite to qualify in the event. He had won the two previous mass start Olympic qualifiers, held earlier this fall, and totaled 200 qualifying points.
(Similar to the world-cup scoring system, the winner of each mass start qualifier received 100 points, 80 for second place, 70 for third, etc.)
He only had to finish the race tonight to qualify for the mass start in PyeongChang. In fact, he worked out today — typically a no-no on race day — and was tired by race time.
With one more Olympic mass start quota spot up for grabs, the real race happened among five other skaters in the field of 25. Coming to trials, four men sat within eight points of each other: Jeffrey Swider-Peltz Jr. with 120 points, 1,500-meter Olympic qualifier Brian Hansen with 115 points, Chase Reichmann also with 115 points and Ian Quinn with 112.
And KC Boutiette, with 88 points and a second-place finish in a world cup mass start in 2016, was trying to make his fifth Olympic team.
Whoever crossed the line first, before or after Mantia, would earn the second mass start quota spot.
The race was hot from the gun. With 11 laps to go, Emery Lehman shot off the front, and Mantia went with him. Hot on his heels were Hansen, Swider-Peltz and Quinn.
In the final lap, Hansen began sprinting with a lap to go, and held the lead to the finish line for the win. Swider-Peltz crossed second and Quinn third. Mantia crossed the line fourth.
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“Every time I step on the ice, I want to win,” said Mantia. “But today, I just knew I needed to finish, and that was a big stress free situation for me. I really just wanted to let those guys race it out.”
“And then I got a little hungry on the last half lap to go,” he confessed. “Maybe I can win this. I tried to pop inside. I had a little slip out of that corner and couldn’t hold it, and it was whatever after that.”
With the win, Hansen claimed the second mass start spot. Already a two-time Olympian and 2010 team pursuit silver medalist, he qualified for the Olympic Games in the 1,500 last night.
“I’m happy I was able to pull off the win,” said Hansen. “And I’m happy to be representing the U.S. in that race because I think I can hopefully do a good one.”
Mantia was equally glad that Hansen had nabbed the second mass start spot. Similar to a cycling race, the two can work together to get one of them in a breakaway in the PyeongChang mass start.
“It’s a big step in the right direction as far as having somebody who I really trust,” Mantia said, noting that he has good camaraderie with Hansen. “I think we can put together a solid plan. I think he’s on board with working for me as the designated winner for the Games. But we have to see how it plays out and who’s feeling the best as we get there. I’m very confident having a strong teammate like Hansen.”
Lehman ended up finishing fourth the mass start (every place after the top three is determined by points won in the intermediate sprints, and Lehman racked up more points than Mantia).
More importantly, Lehman, 21, was named to his second Olympic team on Sunday. A distance specialist, he won the 5,000 at trials on Tuesday night. But the U.S. does not have a quota spot in that event and instead is third on the reserve list. Lehman spent the week on pins and needles wondering if he would make it.
Tonight, Lehman was named as a team pursuit specialist for PyeongChang, and still waits to see if he will compete in the 5,000.
“It’s awesome, definitely better the second time around than the first time around,” he said.
He was 17 years old when he competed in Sochi, where he finished tenth in the 10,000 there and 16th in the 5,000.
Since then, he has started college and endured the pressure of balancing academics with full-time training. He is a civil engineering major at Marquette University in Milwaukee and is halfway through his junior year.
“I’m going to have email my advisor and withdraw from [spring semester] classes,” he noted with a smile.
His biggest setback was enduring mononucleosis last year.
In world cup competition this past fall, Lehman helped the U.S. earn an Olympic berth in the team pursuit. At the Salt Lake City World Cup, Lehman, along with teammates Mantia and Hansen finished fifth and qualified for the Games on time.
“Brian and Joey are great guys and great teammates for the team pursuit,” said Lehamn. “I had a little fall at one of the world cups, first one we didn’t really put it together that well. At the last world cup, we put together a really solid race, and I think we can do it again at the Olympics.”
The 2018 U.S. Olympic Men’s Long Track Speedskating Team
Shani Davis: 1,000, 1,500
Jonathan Garcia: 500
Kimani Griffin: 500
Brian Hansen: 1,500, mass start
Emery Lehman: team pursuit
Joey Mantia: 1,000, 1,500, mass start
Mitch Whitmore: 500, 1,000
The men (from this list) who compete on the team pursuit squad will be named at a later date.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.