We did a great training camp in Milwaukee before we came, so we felt like he was physically prepared, and I think he was able to be really focused in his race today and just execute a good, solid 1,000-meter. —U.S. Speedskating National sprint team coach Matt Kooreman
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Despite finishing a fraction of a second from his first Olympic medal, speedskater Joey Mantia was thrilled.
“I totally didn’t see this coming,” the Sandy resident said after finishing fourth in the 1,000-meter long track race Friday night at Gangneung Oval. “I thought if I was in the top 10 coming out of tonight, I’d be happy. ... I’m floating right now.”
Mantia said he entered the race with a time goal, rather than hoping he could earn U.S. speedskating’s second medal of the Games. When he skated a 1:08.564, he took over first place with 10 skaters left to race. The wait was tense, but not nerve-wracking because of the men who skated after Mantia.
“I knew I needed a miracle to get on the podium after (Netherlands) Kjeld Nuis was last up and I was sitting in third,” Mantia said of the reigning 1,000-meter world champion, who won gold in the 1,500 earlier this week. “I needed him to really mess up. I was trying to be optimistic but at the same time, realistic.”
Nuis almost looked like he might not deliver his second gold of these Games when he caused a false start. His reaction was more relief than elation as he battled nerves throughout the lead-up to the race.
“The 1,500 was a victory and this is a relief,” he said. “I was psyched to get this one. I really felt the tension today, and after the false start, the nerves were running through my body. But now it doesn’t matter anymore.”
All of the U.S. men finished in the top 10 with world record holder and double gold medalist in the 1,000 Shani Davis finishing seventh (1:08.78) and Mitchell Whitmore earning 10th (1:09.17). Norway’s Harvard Lorentzen earned silver (1:07.99), while Korea’s Tae-Yun Kim thrilled the hometown crowd with a bronze (1:08.22).
Whitmore said he was happy with 10th as his goal was just to enjoy the experience of racing at the Olympics. That was the three-time Olympian’s best finish at the Games.
“My goal for today was just to enjoy it,” he said after finishing 15th in his best event, the 500-meter on Monday. “It takes a lot just to get here in the first place, no matter what country you’re from. And just showing that off here is super special.”
Davis, a five-time Olympian who, at 35, may be skating in his last Olympics, left the competition without addressing the media, and he also directed his coach not to answer questions about him or his performance.
U.S. Speedskating National sprint team coach Matt Kooreman said they felt a top-10 finish for Mantia “would be a really nice result for him. So fourth was almost a little bit of a surprise. If this was last year, that would have been a medal.”
Kooreman said Mantia’s success Friday came from his preparation.
“We knew he was fast,” Kooreman said. “We did a great training camp in Milwaukee before we came, so we felt like he was physically prepared, and I think he was able to be really focused in his race today and just execute a good, solid 1,000-meter.”
Mantia is a competitive personality, and Kooreman said coming so close to the podium will do more than boost his confidence.
“It’s a little bittersweet there always to be in fourth position,” he said. “But I think he’ll use that as motivation for tomorrow, and really try to close things out in a positive way.”
He said Whitmore’s result “was excellent” for the sprint specialist.
“That was fun to see from him,” Kooreman said.
When asked if fourth is the worst place to finish, Mantia laughed.
“No, I’d say last is the worst place to finish,” he said. “I mean, you’re still at the Olympics. I guess it could be, but I wasn’t really expecting it. I’m optimistic about it, so fourth is awesome.”
Mantia said he understands how someone might look at the scoreboard and feel sorry for him.
“You can look at the scoreboard and make your own assumptions about how the game went, how the races go,” Mantia said. “If you don’t follow it, it’s hard to make an accurate call on how things went. For me, it was great.”
In fact, both he and his coach believe his fourth-place finish gives him both the confidence and the momentum heading into his best event — the Mass Start — on the final night of competition.
“Normally I wouldn’t look at the time trials to give me anything toward the Mass Start, but at his point, yeah, I’ll take it,” he said grinning. “Obviously we want to come away with as many medals as possible, and U.S. Speedskating traditionally has been pretty good at the Games. Tomorrow is a big day for us, and I think the guys and girls can do something big.”
While the Olympic futures of Whitmore and Davis are in doubt, Mantia’s is not.
While the 32-year-old Florida native wasn’t sure he’d ever adjust to life in Utah’s mountains, he’s actually been completely converted to life on the Wasatch Front.
“I love it,” said Mantia, who not only bought a home in Sandy, but co-owns a coffee shop, Coffee Lab, on the campus of the University of Utah. “To be completely honest, when I first moved to Utah, I wasn’t really sure about it. I grew up in Florida, and I grew up a beach bum. I like the water. The older I get, I’ve fallen in love with Utah, having the mountains right there.”
Some of that affection comes from the fact that he loves cycling.
“I’m 20-25 minutes away from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is a great ride,” he said. “It’s just gorgeous; I couldn’t ask for a better place to live.”