What a weekend for Team USA at the ISU Four Continents Championship as US skaters leave the inaugural event with eight medals!
Two-time Olympian Mia Kilburg bagged two individual gold medals, in the Ladies 3000m and Mass Start, and a bronze in the 1000m, while Brianna Bocox won two individual gold medals in the Ladies 1500m and 1000m. Emery Lehman took bronze in the Men’s 1500m and Ian Quinn skated to a bronze medal in the Men’s Mass Start. On top of that, the US Ladies Team Pursuit (Kilburg, Bocox and Paige Schwartzburg) skated to a gold medal finish.
“This is a building year since 2022 is the ultimate goal, so every day, every competition, every race is one step closer to the next Olympics,” Kilburg said. “This is definitely a huge leap from where I started at the beginning of the season – so I’m stoked!”
The weekend started with the Ladies 500m where Olympian Erin Jackson missed a bronze medal by .003 seconds. Jackson’s time of 38.561 was narrowly beaten by Hyun-Hung Kim (38.558). “I was up there,” Jackson said. “I know a couple things I messed up on so I did my best but I also know a couple of things I could have done better. I’ll just learn from it and do better next time.”
It was the first international competition for Chrysta Rands who skated the 500m, on Friday afternoon. “My nerves are a lot higher than normal,” she said. “It’s weird with all the lights and the cameras so I’m a little more anxious than I’d like. Nice to get the first race out of the way but I’m excited for the 1000 and the team sprint so hopefully I can relax and find my skating.”
In the Men’s 500m, Brett Perry set a sea-level personal best with a time of 35.506, ending in ninth and Olympian Kimani Griffin wasn’t far behind in 11th (35.732). The gold medalist, Joon-Ho Kim broke Olympian Mitch Whitmore’s Pettit Center track record of 34.90 with a time of 34.592.
Kilburg’s first gold of the weekend came in the Ladies 3000m where her time of 4:07.005 landed her on top of the podium. It was an emotional 3000m for Schwartzburg, having just learned her grandfather had passed away. She finished her 3000m in 4:21.513 but was disqualified for an illegal lane change, but as a part of the Team Pursuit, Schwartzburg won her first international gold medal.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had anybody close to me pass away,” she said. “It’s like you want to shove it under the rug, which I tried to do, but I wasn’t able to and it affected me more than I thought it was going to. For me, the first day was definitely an emotional day, so it’s just been getting back on track after that.”
Battling a weeklong illness, two-time Olympian Emery Lehman threw down a time of 6:23.291 in the Men’s 5000m, taking a bronze medal in the process. Jackson, Rands and Blair Cruikshank joined forces for the Team Sprint and finished just off the podium in fourth place. Griffin, Perry and Conor McDermott-Mostowy skated the Men’s Team Sprint, ending in fifth.
In the Ladies 1500m, Bocox ended up skating her pair alone but put in a stellar performance to earn her first medal at an international competition. Her gold medal race set a personal best time of 1:57.176. Schwartzburg finished in a strong seventh place with 2:00.115.
“This is a building block,” Bocox said. “I talked to Ryan [Shimabukuro] yesterday and the other coaches here and I just seem to be getting better and stronger. I’m excited for world singles. That’s a big championship and I’m excited to be able to skate a 1000 there.”
In the Men’s 1500m, Justin Stelly skated a fast 1500m, ending in sixth with a time of 1:47.093. Ethan Cepuran finished 12th (1:48.451) and McDermott-Mostowy ended in 15th (1:50.169).
“It’s nice to see all the technical pieces come together,” Stelly said. “I’m kind of taking a step back to go faster and it can get redundant, but when it actually works and you see it in the time, it kind of makes all those little struggles worth it. Especially with a sport that’s so frustrating. I’m happy with it.”
In the Ladies Mass Start, Kilburg sat back in a slow pack until making her move with less than a lap to go to win her second gold of the weekend. Ian Quinn battled the Koreans and Japanese skaters in his Mass Start event, crossing the line in third place.
Bocox kick-started Sunday’s 1000m races winning her second gold of the weekend (1:15.547). Kilburg shared the 1000m podium with a bronze-medal time of 1:16.047. McDermott-Mostowy finished the highest of the US men, ending in 6th place (1:09.596) in the Men’s 1000.
Kilburg, Bocox and Schwartzburg tore up the ice in the Ladies Team Pursuit to win gold. “It’s always nice to win,” Schwartzburg said. “It’s always a lot better to win as a team. There’s just something about working with others and achieving that medal together makes you feel really good.”
The US Men’s Team Pursuit athletes (Cepuran, Lehman and Quinn) put in a fast race that would have got them the gold medal and a national lowland record, but a safety equipment failure disqualified them from the event.
Most of the team travels to Calgary for World Cup 5 and then back to the Utah Olympic Oval for the 2020 World Single Distance Championships.