KEARNS — Heather Richardson proved she is the fastest female sprinter on the U.S. long track team when she skated the world's fastest 500 meters this season.
And then, just in case there was any doubt, she did it even faster.
The 23-year-old former inline skater set a national record with a time of 37.51, and then she broke that record in the day's second race with a time of 37.34. Those times are the fastest — and second fastest — in the world this season.
And the Olympian did it after struggling to find her legs after competing and training in Japan for the last few weeks. She said when she returned to Utah, her legs felt heavy and tired.
"I was really sluggish coming back to altitude," said Richardson after winning both of the women's 500-meter races Friday at the Utah Olympic Oval with the two fastest times in the world this season. "I was able to communicate with (coach) Ryan (Shimabukuro) really well. He helped me change some stuff in the program that allowed me to adjust for my sprints this weekend."
She said the extra volume helped her gain the strength and stamina she needed to be able to compete in this week's U.S. Long Track Championships in Kearns. She said she didn't expect to perform as well as she did Friday morning.
"I was really shocked," she said laughing. "When I did the 37.51, I thought that was pretty good. I wanted to try and beat it."
And keep in mind that her favorite event is the 1,000-meter race on Saturday morning.
"It's really exciting," she said. "I think it was good to get a little volume so my legs weren't in shock today."
When asked how she fueled for the important races, she hesitated, and then confessed.
"I don't know if I should say, actually," she said laughing. "No, really, I had Chick-fil-A — chicken sandwhich and sweet tea."
She shrugged and then said the work she did with Shimabukuro was more likely the reason for her success Friday.
Another former inline skater, Brittany Bowe, 24, finished second with times of 38.30 and 38.07. Lauren Cholewinski was third with times of 38.53 and 38.51.
Bowe said skating with and against Richardson only helps her improve.
"Heather is an unbelievable skater," said Bowe. "She definitely pushes me, and I think I push her. It's always great to have good, healthy competition, and we raise each other's level of performance. Obviously, we're both setting personal bests."
Bowe was happy with her performance but said it wouldn't impact how she approaches Saturday's races. "I just like to skate within myself," she said. "I never really go into any race with certain expecations. I always just try to skate within myself, within my technique, and with that the times come."
On the men's side, Mitch Whitmore won the overall 500-meter title after a first-race time of 35.14. His second time was 35.37, just slightly slower than the overall second-place winner, Tucker Fredricks. Fredricks had times of 35.55 and 35.15, while Clay Cholewinski finished with times of 35.67 and 35.50 to claim third overall. With his probably first World Cup team berth, Cholewinski was thrilled with his finish.
"I'm in a pretty good spot," he said. "This season the 500 has been my better event. I had some injuries last year, but I'm bouncing back from that."
He is skating a second faster than he did last year at this time.
"I'm very thrilled with how I am skating now," he said. "I like the altitude. I think it helps me. This is my home ice."