KEARNS, Utah — If this weekend’s World Cup results are any indication of what the 2014 Olympics will be like for the U.S. speedskating team, someone might want to start ordering the shadow boxes now.
“Sixteen medals in two world cups! It’s got to be one of our best starts to a season ever,” said U.S. head long track coach Ryan Shimabukuro after another record-setting day at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah. “I’m pretty pumped, and there is still one more day to go.”
The U.S. team set two new national records: Brittany Bowe in the 1500 (1:52.45) and the men’s team pursuit (3:37.22). There were also two new world records set Saturday: Korea’s Sang-Hwa Lee in the 500 (36.36) and the Netherlands in the team pursuit (3:35.60). Both Lee and the Netherlands team broke their own world records with Saturday’s victorious times.
“First of all, I think we can put to rest who has the fastest ice on earth — us or Calgary,” Shimabukuro said with a smile. “I think we demonstrated here that we have the fastest ice on the planet. Number two, guys are motivated. In Olympic years, you always see a bump up in the performances.”
Davis also participated in the team pursuit for the first time since helping the U.S. win a silver medal in the 2011 World Championships. He said because the event is scheduled at the end of Olympic competition makes it more enticing for him to participate.
Both he and Brian Hansen skated in the team pursuit after winning medals in the 1,000 two hours earlier. Davis won the 1,000 with a time of 1:06.88, with Kjeld Nuis, Netherlands, earning silver with a personal best of 1:07.02. Hansen won bronze with a personal record of 1:07.03.
“It’s really not easy,” Davis said of racing in the team event after competing in his own race. “It’s a good starting point for us. We’re motivated. At least now we know where we stand, and we stand in a good place.”
Equally encouraging to Shimabukuro was the fact that both Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe earned their first podiums in the 1,500. The women prefer the shorter races (500 and 10,00), and they both compete in the team pursuit. So asking them to compete in a fifth race in three days is a tough task.
“It’s one we just use for training, but I know they can do well with it,” Shimabukuro said. “The only reason I made them race it this weekend is because it’s on our home track. Those girls have a really heavy load. So I have to pick and choose and be really careful not to over race them early in the season.”
Bowe and Richardson raced in the 1,500 meters B Division in Calgary, and finished first and second, enabling both to compete in the A Division on the ice where they train.
“It was just really fun,” Richardson said grinning after earning a personal record of 1:52.45. “And we’ll look forward to that 1,000 meter tomorrow.”
Bowe’s finish thrilled her as he was her first podium of the weekend.
“It felt great,” Bowe said. “I just wanted to be very focused for the 15. I had another good 500 this morning, but I focused really hard on the 1,500. I wanted to skate a really good, tactical race. I did, so I’m really pleased with that.”
The possibility of setting a U.S. record, she said that wasn’t even on her mind.
“You don’t even think about something like that when you’re racing,” she said. “You just try to stick to the race plan and the times will come. It’s a great honor to have.”
Ireen Wust, Netherlands, won the 1,500 with a time of 1:52.08. In the women’s 500, Lee won her fourth gold of the season with her world-record time of 36.36, while Richardson set a new national record of 36.90. Russia’s Olga Fatkulina also set a national record when she earned bronze with a time of 37.13.
The competition begins with B Division races at 8:45 a.m. on Sunday. The A Division gets under way about 1:30 p.m. The World Cup points earned by athletes this weekend, help determine seeding and the number of team entries they will have in the 2014 Winter Games this February.
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