KEARNS — Lana Gehring kept trying to turn her figure skating lessons into a competition.
"I wasn't really into it," said Gehring, who earned the second-fastest time (40.382) in the time trials at the short track national championships Thursday in Kearns. The bronze medalist and her U.S. teammates were attempting to focus on a critical athletic competition that will determine who makes the fall World Cup team while a controversy divides them.
This summer, 14 athletes accused head coach Jae Su Chun of verbal, physical and emotional abuse. The coach denied the allegations in a written statement, but the next day U.S. speedskating officials voted to put him on administrative leave while a law firm investigates the charges. Most athletes are not talking about the allegations or their affect on the athletes, but Simon Cho confirmed that it was difficult to concentrate on competition when the team is fragmented.
"It's difficult and I'm sure many of the other athletes are going through the same thing," Cho said.
Cho said once he starts skating the stress of the controversy dissipates some, and he's grateful for that.
Gehring said she didn't like figure skating, but she did like at least one aspect of those early days on ice.
"I did like the suicides (sprints) they used to do," she said smiling. "I just loved competition."
And skating fast.
So her parents let her give speedskating a try and it was love at first race.
"I loved the thrill of speed skating," she said. "From there on out, I knew this is what I wanted to do."
What she didn't know is just how good she could be.
Like most young athletes, she admired the Olympians she grew up watching. But she did not see herself as one of them until she made the 2010 U.S. Olympic team.
"I never thought I could do it," she said. "I just thought the Olympics was out of my reach, such a huge accomplishment."
Which is why she didn't believe her coach when he informed her that she'd qualified for the Vancouver Olympics before the qualifying event had even concluded.
"I made the team the day before the competition even ended," she said smiling. "It was the best feeling ever."
The opening ceremonies and winning a bronze medal in the 3,000-meter relay were memorable moments, but the Illinois native is by no means finished.
"Everything is prepping for the Olympics now," said Gehring. "At every World Cup, I hope I learn something different."
Like most of her speed skaters, she's adjusted her training schedule and race expectations with an eye toward making the Olympic team in 2014. The 21-year-old also has different expectations.
"There is a little bit more pressure now," she said. "The goals now, as compared to back then, are different. I'm hoping for an individual medal."
Jessica Smith had the fastest time of the day in the four-lap time trial at 39.849. Smith also had the fastest 9-lap time trial at 1:30.250.
"Overall I was happy with my race," said Smith after the 9-lap competition. "I just skated to a personal best, so it went really well for me … It gives me a little confidence of course, but racing is always different."
While the top 14 athletes qualified the 1,500-meter and 500-meter races that will begin at 1:05 p.m. Friday, the others will compete all morning for those remaining quarterfinal spots.
Chris Creveling was the fastest man in the 9-lap time trial with a time of 1:23.987; JR Celski was second (1:24.113) and Keith Carrol Jr. was third (1:24.679).
"I'm really excited. I finally skated a great time, got a personal best and made podium," said Creveling. "I was not expecting to skate that fast but am really excited about my time and look forward to the next time trial and the rest of the competition."