KEARNS — Every time speed skater Heather Richardson raced this weekend, she set a new national record.
Saturday morning it was Chris Witty's 10-year-old 1,000-meter mark of 1:13.83 that Richardson broke with a time of 1:13.52 in the U.S. Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval. Her two victories in the 500-meter sprints on Friday, combined with Saturday's 1,000-meter win, easily earned her the sprint championship and qualified her for both the World Cup team and the World Sprint team.
"That's really exciting," said Richardson, who was so thrashed after her race she needed oxygen and a garbage can (into which she heaved the contents of her extremely upset stomach). "It's not something I expected but I will take it. That record has been standing for a long time and it was done by Chris Witty. Everyone looked up to her because she had that (record) for so long."
She said Friday's record-setting performance fueled her Saturday morning.
"I definitely think I fed off of yesterday," she said. "I never thought I would be going 37.3, so I was really excited after that and it gave me confidence for today."
Brittany Bowe took the silver in both the 1,000-meter race and that sprint championship, while Sugar Todd was third in both competitions. Bowe skated the 1,000 meters in 1:14.95, while Todd finished in 1:16.72.
On the men's side, Shani Davis proved he still owns the 1,000-meter event, winning with a time of 1:08.57.
"It's a short race so you have to push yourself," he said. "You have to go out there and give it your all, and if you're able to win, great."
He said he'd struggled for some reason in Friday's 500-meter events, but looked forward to Sunday's 1,500 meter race. He owns two Olympic gold medals in the 1,000 meters and two silvers in the 1,500.
Brian Hansen was second with a time of 1:08.74, while Jonathan Garcia was third with a time of 1:09.24.
The men's sprint title was claimed by Mitch Whitmore, who earned a total of 105.350 points. Second place was Garcia, who switched from short track in October. Clay Cholewinski earned the bronze.
"It's extremely tough," Garcia said of making the transition. "It's so different. In short track you're racing against other people. In long track, you're racing against the clock. It's a much different mindset. It's almost like a different set of muscle groups."
Garcia said he'd struggled for two years on the U.S. short track team under former head coach Jae Su Chun, who resigned and was banned for two years after admitting that he didn't report an incident of cheating involving a U.S. athlete. That athlete, Simon Cho, said he bent the blade of a Canadian skater only after Chun badgered him to do so. Chun denied that allegation and there are still several investigations into Cho and the incident at various levels.
While Garcia said his problems with Chun go back nearly two years, the cheating incident came to light as part of grievances and complaints filed by 19 athletes who alleged physical and emotional abuse by Chun and his assistants.
Garcia said he still considers himself part of the FAST team, which is made up of athletes who made the allegations against Chun. But after an abysmal performance in the fall qualifying championships, he decided he needed a change.
He borrowed a friend's skates and gave it a try.
"It was always in the back of my mind that I might be good at this," Garcia said. "I skated that first set of short track trials. It was a Gong Show. It almost wasn't even short track anymore. I had one of my worst competitions in three or four years. I realized I was skating to beat other people and not for myself."
He began training long track on Oct. 1 and said he never expected to compete as well as he has — including getting a silver in the sprint championships.
"That definitely was not part of the plan today," he said, laughing. "But I'm super excited. Hopefully I can represent the U.S. well at the World Sprint Championships."
Garcia said his progression would not be possible without the friendship and help of the other long track athletes who've not only welcomed him onto the team, they helped him with training and competing adjustments.
"I really miss short track," said the 26-year-old former inline skater. "But I'm having a blast with long track. I never thought I'd enjoy it this much."
The competition continues Sunday with the men's and women's 1,500-meter races.
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