I recommitted myself this year. —Tucker Fredricks
KEARNS — Twice Tucker Fredricks has made the U.S. Olympic Team only to fall short of fulfilling his dream of winning a medal.
So when he got a phone call offering help from a legendary long track speed skater, who, like Fredricks, knows a little bit about disappointment, the Wisconsin native jumped at the chance.
"Dan Jansen invited me out to his place just to kind of mentor me, hang out, give me advice and stuff," said Fredrick, who won his fifth medal in four World Cup competitions with a bronze in the 500 meter race at Sunday's Essent ISU Long Track World Cup at the Utah Olympic Oval. "I did that, and I really got some good ideas from him. He's still been helping me out this winter, and it's been really nice to have somebody like that in my corner, watching every step of the way; so that's another thing that's made me work a little bit harder."
Fredricks wasn't sure he was committed to another four years of training, of competing and maybe, most importantly, hoping for that Olympic medal that has eluded him in his first two Olympic appearances. Then, the U.S. Speed Skating team hired Finn Halvorsen, who energized Fredricks' quest to improve his skating.
"I recommitted myself this year," Fredricks said after his third place finish with a time of 34.60. "Last year I was just here to hang out because of the heartbreak at the Olympics. I recommitted myself, worked really hard, and doing a lot of new things in training. It's been really fun, really fun for me to see my progress and growth as a speed skater."
It also doesn't hurt to have a childhood idol see greatness in you.
"It feels really good," said Fredricks, "to have somebody who didn't at all have to invite me out there, didn't have to care about me at all. It's really cool that one of the greatest speed skaters in the sport and in U.S. Speed Skating is taking me under his wing, is helping me out."
Jansen knows about disappointment as he was favored to win a gold in his first two Olympic appearances, but didn't do it until his third and final appearance. In fact, he never won gold in the 500, which was his best distance. He won gold in the 1994 Winter Games in the 1000-meter race.
Fredricks said he's just started racing the 1000 in Division B, something Halvorsen encouraged him to do. He finished 20th in that race with a time of 1:11.17.
"I told Finn I'd do whatever he asked," said Fredricks. His performance this weekend vaults him into the top spot in the overall World Cup rankings. Russia's Dmitry Lobkov won with a time of 34.54, and Japan's Keiichiro Nagashima was second with 34.57.
Finding a way to continue the grueling training required after more than a decade in the sport is difficult, even when you're winning gold medals.
Shani Davis, who won back-to-back gold medals in the 1000-meters this weekend, has four Olympic medals and has represented the U.S. in two Olympic Games. He won Sunday's race with a time of 1:07.69, while Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands, was second with a time of 1:07.94. Finland's Pekka Koskela was third with a time of 1:08.17.
Davis keeps himself motivated by changing what he does and always trying to push the limits of his mind and body.
Changing his routine may have had some impact on his results, as he failed to medal until this weekend's World Cup where he won both of his races.
"You've just got to have faith," he said. "You've got to be your biggest believer when that happens. You just know that all the things you did weren't in vain. You did everything and it had a purpose and a reason."
He agreed with Fredricks that bouncing back from a disappointing Olympics can be difficult.
"It's really hard because four years can be a long time away," he said. "But if you set out, it can come up a lot faster than what you expect. It's really important to not give into those mental, your frustrations of wanting to hang out or rest. You have to take it in stride because you won't be able to do this forever."
In the women's 500, Sang-Hwa Lee won with a time of 37.27, while Jing Yu of China, was second finishing in 37.51. Germany's Jenny Wolf was third with a time of 37.62.
In the women's 1000, Germany's Gabriele Hirschbichler was first with a time of 1:16.10, while Shuai Qi was second with a time of 1:16.32. In third place was Miho Takagi of Japan, who finished in 1:16.41.