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Bowe jumps to ice after successful hoops career

By Lynn Debruin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 9:30 a.m. MST

KEARNS, Utah — Brittany Bowe was in the stands 10 years ago when Apolo Anton Ohno and Derek Parra skated to Olympic gold on home ice.

"It sent chills down my spine," Bowe said of watching American flag-draped victory laps. "I've always wanted that to be me."

The Florida native instead set out to capture just about every in-line skating title then took another detour to play four years of Division I basketball at Florida Atlantic University.

Now, the 23-year-old former point guard is back chasing her Olympic dreams. She's competing this weekend in the World Cup long track speed skating event at the Utah Olympic Oval.

She's already come a long way from 2010, when she was thrown into the fire with the short track national team for her first practice on Utah's "fastest ice on earth."

"I was probably the laughingstock," Bowe said. "It was kind of a frightening experience. Even though I usually don't worry about what others think, I can only imagine. Hopefully, I'm making some people believers after this season."

Bowe won't be one of the favorites when skaters compete in the 500 and 1,000 both Saturday and Sunday. Olympic gold medalist Christine Nesbitt of Canada has won World Cup gold in every 1,000-meter race this season, while China's Jing Yu has dominated the 500. American Heather Richardson enters this weekend ranked 10th overall in the 1,000.

Tucker Fredricks and Shani Davis headline the U.S. men's team, which faces stiff competition from a strong Dutch team, among others.

Bowe, ranked 17th in the 1,000, simply wants personal bests this weekend in both events as she continues to improve.

"She's definitely capable of breaking into the top 10," U.S. sprint team coach Ryan Shimabukuro said. "If she tops out a performance that I think she's capable of, she has an outside chance at a podium. But top 10 is not out of the realm."

He said there's a difference between winning a medal once and consistently winning.

"She's going to need the next two years to even have a good chance at the podium in Sochi, so every day counts," he said.

Bowe already has proven she has the competitive spirit.

From 1996 to her last in-line world championship in 2008, she won 32 world championship medals, was a three-time Pan American gold medalist and set a trio of world records in in-line skating.

As a slashing, pull-up guard at Florida Atlantic, Bowe once dropped 24 points on NC State, and is one of only nine players in school history to top 1,000 points (1,075).

She recorded 385 assists and her 170 steals rank seventh on the all-time list.

Her forte was drive-and-dish or to pop the 15-footer.

"I had some pretty good handles, some flashy passes, but if those passes didn't go through, my coach was down my throat for sure," Bowe said.

She was finishing out her senior year in Boca Raton when she caught the Vancouver Olympics on TV, and saw in-line skaters she knew well — Chad Hedrick and Richardson — marching at opening ceremonies.

"It kind of lit my fire to hang up the basketball shoes for a little bit and move to Utah," Bowe said.

So rather than play professional ball overseas, she headed West.

"It was tough because I loved basketball," Bowe said. "I wanted to be a professional basketball player, but I also wanted to be an Olympian. Someday I hope I can go back and play professionally overseas. But I knew if I wanted to make my Olympic dream come true, I needed to do it now."

Hedrick, Ohno and J.R. Celski are among those who found Olympic fame after successful in-line careers.

Bowe also can draw on Richardson to help with the adjustment.

Shimabukuro said it helps that Bowe is a well-rounded athlete.

"Some skaters ... you put them in any other sport and they have zero coordination, but Brittany has a lot of natural ability and very good body awareness," he said.

What he has had to teach is patience.

"This is a sport where you live and die by a thousandth of a second," he said. "A blink of an eye is 13-hundredths of a second. So we're talking about being perfect. Because she is competitive she wants it now."

Shimabukuro hopes this weekend's World Cup will be a springboard for the World Sprint Championships next week in Calgary.

"She's learning fast but still has a ways to go. We're not there yet," he said. "She has big aspirations, as do I for her, so I'm very optimistic and very excited about her future."

So is Florida Atlantic coach Chancellor Dugan.

"Brittany played all out on every play, even in practice," Dugan said. "She made herself into a great point guard. When she told me she was going to try and make the Olympics, I made my reservations for 2014. When she puts her mind to something, she does it."

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