KEARNS — Jonathan Garcia held the timing transponders in each hand, high above his head, as he skated a celebratory lap around the Utah Olympic Oval Sunday.
One day after forgetting to wear the timing devices cost him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the 500 meters, Garcia secured a trip to Sochi, Russia, by finishing fourth in the 1,000 meters.
“There is no point in getting upset about it,” he said afterward. “It’s over. There was nothing I could do about it, might as well be able to make fun of yourself.” Garcia was gracious even before he qualified for the Olympic team in the 1,000 meters, acknowledging that it was his fault he forgot to put the transponders on his ankles. He earned the fourth spot by skating a personal record of 1:07.95, but he had to survive some very accomplished skaters in the pairs that raced after him.
“I was definitely doing some praying after my race,” he said. “Not to sound weird or cocky, but I kind of feel like I already made the team yesterday.
“Don’t get me wrong, it feels awesome. It feels amazing.”
After Saturday’s races, Garcia admitted the talent on the U.S. team in the 1,000-meter distance was so deep it would take his best effort to finish in the top four.
He said he was grateful to the people who texted him after the 500, offering him encouragement and support. The most moving text message came Sunday morning on his way to the oval from his first speedskating coach, Olympic gold medalist Derek Parra.
“It was very inspirational,” said the former inline skater, who moved to the ice six years ago in hopes of competing in the Olympic Games.
Garcia originally competed in short track, but he made the switch to long track last year because of the turmoil with the short track team. He thought he would skate better in the team trials in October.
“I started doubting myself,” he said. “All I could do was put my head down and keep working hard and hope everything came together.”
Former figure skater Kelly Gunther secured her spot in the women’s 1,000 with a fourth-place finish on the ice where her career nearly ended in 2010.
A horrific crash nearly severed her foot and she spent six months recovering at the Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It’s the longest I’ve ever been off skates since I was 6 years old,” she said. “That was hard for me, but I’m a fighter.”
Earning her spot on the 2014 Olympic team on the same ice where she broke her lower left leg (double compound fracture) was a symbolic moment.
"I’m a really big believer that everything happens for a reason — there’s a reason for that — there’s a reason why I fell at this rink — so making this 2014 team is just icing on the cake with everything I’ve been through and skating every day,” she said. Her time of 1:16.43 was a personal record.
The athletes on the top of the podium were familiar faces as four-time Olympian Shani Davis won the men’s 1,000 and reigning world sprint champion Heather Richardson won the women’s 1,000 meters.
“I’m happy I came across the line first,” Davis said afterward. “Did you see how close that was? It’s great. I’m happy the level of competition in America has risen so high. It’s only going to make all of us stronger.”
Davis edged fellow Chicago native Brian Hansen by the smallest of margins. Davis finished with a time of 1:07.52, while Hansen crossed the line in 1:07.53. Joey Mantia set a personal record with a time of 1:07.77.
When asked about the team’s chances to medal in the 1,000 meters, Garcia was optimistic but noncommittal.
“We have Shani Davis, who is in my opinion probably the greatest skater ever,” Garcia said. “He’s the only guy to ever win the all-around world championship and the sprint. And he’s the only man to go back-to-back gold medals in the 1,000. We have a great team leader, and Brian, ever since last season, he’s been like a snowball getting better each time. ... There is no doubt in my mind that one of us is going to get a medal.”
Richardson won with a time of 1:13.22, while Brittany Bowe was second in 1:13.92 and Sugar Todd finished third with a personal record of 1:15.72.
The competition continues with the 1,500 meters Tuesday.
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