I've never seen so many people out here cheering for speedskating. I just tried my best not only for myself, but for the people out there cheering. —Two-time Olympian Shani Davis
KEARNS — The frustrations of the fall melted away as some of the top U.S. speedskaters won medals in Saturday's portion of the Essent ISU World Cup at the Utah Olympic Oval.
After struggling in the first half of the World Cup season, the U.S. speedskaters earned four medals in each of the four races at the Utah Olympic Oval.
"It's just nice because the beginning of the season was rough, a really slow start," said two-time Olympian Shani Davis, who won a gold medal in the 1,000 meters with a season-best time of 1:07.20. Canada's Denny Morrison took second with a time of 1:07.39, and Stefan Groothuis, Netherlands, skated a personal-best 1:07.45 for third.
"I had a lot of doubt coming into this competition but drew a lot of energy from the crowd," Davis said. "I've never seen so many people out here cheering for speedskating. I just tried my best not only for myself, but for the people out there cheering."
The crowd was nearly at capacity, an estimated 4,000, one of the largest since the 2002 Winter Olympics were held at the oval in Kearns.
"I've never seeen so many fans and supporters," said Davis, who enjoyed some of the loudest cheers and applause of the afternoon. "Maybe there's a hope for speedskating after all. It was the largest I've seen in my eight or nine years of skating here. My skating will get stronger and the fan base and support for American speedskating in general will get stronger as the Olympics approaches."
After his gold medal was announced, he skated with his arms raised in the air.
"It was an emotional moment," he said smiling. "I was happy I didn't start crying out there."
Davis had a slow start as he was trying to change up his training regimen this fall.
"You can't always do the same things," he said. "If you do, you'll get the same results. Even if those results are good in the past. It's my duty and obligation to try new things and try to figure things out. Right now I'm headed in the right direction and hopefully I can carry this momentum into the world cup next week and the rest of the season. It's nice to get on the podium and be competitive with other athletes."
Reigning World Cup champion and Olympian Heather Richardson earned two medals, which was a first for her this season.
"This is the first time I've won two," said Richardson, who had knee surgery in September to repair a torn meniscus. "I'm happy with it. It's my first podium of the season, so I'll take it."
While winning is always what she wants, she has struggled with some pain since the surgery.
"It was my goal, but I'm definitely surprised with how slow my season started off," she said. "It's definitely picking up. (My knee) was achy all through the fall World Cup (season), and just now, at our trials in December is when it felt good. After trials, everything just went up from there. I was really excited to get out and race today."
Richardson trains in Kearns, so she felt she had a bit of an edge.
"I think it does have a lot to do with comfort," she said. "I train here everyday; the ice crew always has the ice amazing for the World Cups. So it's nice to race here."
Olympian Tucker Fredricks earned a bronze medal in the 500-meter race, after he earned a personal-best time of 34.45. Japan's Keiichiro Nagashima won the gold with a time of 34.37, while Jan Smeekens, Netherlands, earned silver with a time of 34.40.
Even those who didn't win medals posted personal bests. Brittany Bowe, who just entered the sport last year, earned a personal-best in the 500 (finished 17th) and then placed fifth in the 1,000-meter race.
"It was very surprising," she said. "I'm just very, very pleased."
All of the athletes will compete again today in 500 and 1,000-meter distances. This is the fourth World Cup stop for the athletes.
The competition begins at noon at the Utah Olympic Oval and is free and open to the public.