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Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
Tucker Fredricks competes in the men's 500 meter during the Essent ISU World Cup Speed Skating at the Utah Olympic Oval on January 22, 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I definitely have some room for improvement. But it’s a good start to the weekend. —Brittany Bowe

KEARNS — Four years ago, Brittany Bowe left the sunshine of Florida for the frigid winter temperatures of Utah.

The former inline skater decided to give her Olympic dream life by taking up long track speedskating in the summer of 2010. She uprooted her life and moved to West Jordan so she could train at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, just a few miles away,

“2014 has been my goal since the day I moved out here,” said Bowe, who won the 500-meter race on the first day of the U.S. single distance championships Friday. Her time was 37.92, just two hundredths off of her personal best of 37.90.

“I definitely have some room for improvement,” Bowe said. “But it’s a good start to the weekend.”

Skaters qualify for the U.S. long track World Cup team by competing at the single distance championships, but it is also the first competition of the pre-Olympic season for American athletes.

“It’s just getting us race ready for the upcoming World Cups,” she said. “We have, if all goes according to plan, Calgary in two weeks. So this is just the first real competition of the season to get us race ready.”

Heather Richardson, last year’s single distance champion in every race, finished second with a time of 38.01.

“I’m feeling good,” Richardson said. “This morning, I had some issues, and I just didn’t get a very good warm-up. So I was a little off-schedule today. But I’m happy that I was able to race, and it was a good race for no warm-up, so I’m OK with it.”

Lauren Cholewinski finished third in the women’s race with a time of 38:17 seconds.

“My personal best is 38:18…So I was a little disappointed because I was so close to my person (best) that I would like to just beat it,” Cholewinski said. “I’m glad it’s finally getting started, and we can get moving with the season.”

In the men’s 500-meter race, two-time Olympian Tucker Fredricks won with a time of 34.99 seconds. Mitch Whitmore was second with a time of 35.10 and Brian Hansen earned third — and a personal best — with a time of 35.26 seconds.

Fredricks contemplated quitting the sport at the beginning of the season, in part because of a nagging back injury. The bulging disc in his lower back has been an issue he’s dealt with since he was 19 years old.

“Sometimes it will take a month to get better and sometimes it will take a day and a half,” he said. “I just have to keep an eye on it, and do therapy, ice and ibuprofen.”

Fredricks was happy with his win on the first day, although he thought he might finish a little quicker.

“I guess I expected to go a little bit faster because the ice seems really good, and I’m skating OK right now and getting better," he said. "I was kind of disappointed there, but other than that, there were a lot of good things in the race that I’m trying to work on that I executed well. So I’m actually really happy about that.”

He said competing during the Olympic season is no different for him than any other year.

“I’m just as motivated as I am in every other year,” he said.

The women’s 3,000-meter race was won by veteran Jilleanne Rookard, who skated it in 4:05.68, while Petra Acker finished second with a time of 4:16.53. Anna Ringsred was third with a time of 4:16.90.

The U.S. single distance championships continue Saturday with another 500-meter race for both men and women and a 1,000-meter race for both men and women. The competition concludes with men's and women’s 1500-meter races and team pursuits Sunday. The World Cup team will also be named Sunday after the competition concludes.

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