Olympic trials, Part II, day 4

For many people, this is winter; An annoyance viewed from a heated box.

Modern humans are encouraged to live like veal within our boxes, addicted to bleating phones, and insulated from what the world pours down upon us.

There was a time when all speedskating was outdoors. Olympic trials would have been very different outdoors on a day like this.

The old timers WERE tougher because of this, and have every right to feel a little smug at how they fought the elements.

However, they never had to skate the freakish lap times necessary in the modern era to make an Olympic team. The game is just different now, both are/were supremely hard.

Of the 4 slots earned on this day, 3 of the 4 crashed or almost crashed, because of lactic-acid poisoning.

Women’s 1000m

Michigan Skater Kelly Gunther had put up the time to beat from the first running of the 1000. A low 1:17 was the time to beat, very few women in the field had that kind of speed-

However Rebekah Bradford was skating the race of her life during her shot at the 1000m, she was clearly on a path for a low 1:16, exiting the final turn, she was so deep in lactic-acid crazy land she crashed. A full-on “faceplant squid” as a spectator told me. Even sliding 40 meters, she recorded the 3rd best time of the day.

Kelly took the line, and skated well, an almost identical time to her first run. A low 1:17. This is the smile of someone who is thinking they just made the Olympic team.

But when a skater has an unintentional fall, although they are out of the overall samalong for the event, they get to do a reskate for team selection purposes.

This happens all the time at US championships. Almost never does an Olympic slot hang in the balance. After an all out effort like a 1000, your body is shredded. I thought Beckah had absolutely no chance.

And she goes out and skates a personal best, almost a full second faster than Kelly’s race!

Unbelievable. The crowd went absolutely berserk. Here she is about halfway through, and later with her coach, Ryan Shimabukuro, who definitely deserves props not just for physically preparing Beckah, but technically, and mentally, to go out & skate like that.

I don’t know Kelly Gunther, but I can only imagine the emotional whiplash must have been just horrible. That is trials though, a merciless soul-blender that produces an Olympic team.

There were grumblings about rules & the “Minnesota Mafia”, but reskates are done all the time, no matter the place in the standings. If you unintentionally crash, you get a reskate. And also, karmically, Beckah was clearly the strongest skater.

Men’s 1000m

Tucker Fredricks already has his Olympic team spot in the 500m. He has so much speed now, in an early pair of the 1000m, he sets down a scorching 1:09.22 He was in a world of hurt, and almost dumped it in the final turn as well.

time passes, Life intervenes. I love my job, but… must… finish… post!!)

So many good men threw themselves into the 1000m race effort. Chris Needham taking the last steps of his outstanding speedskating career. He threw down one of his fastest 1000m efforts ever, and harking back to his ST past, did a hand-down pivot the whole final turn.

The shape reflected in the ice in the inner lane is Chris’s wife Carrie. She has taken every step with him. All the joy & pain. It’s fitting her reflection is right next to Chris as he gives everything in his final race.

I know this next shot is out of focus (damm camera!) but it shows their deep bond. No one goes to the starting line alone, and Chris you have some amazing people alongside you as your take the next steps in your life

Joey Lindsey and Robert Lawrence have known & raced each other for years in short track. They are good friends.

This is helpful; because there is a good chance these two extraordinarily talented young men will have to do a lot of traveling together on future world cup teams.

Joey was 5th overall, and Robert cut 2 seconds of his previous PB.

Note the size of Joey’s water jug. Hydrate or die!

But the fastest man among the fast men today was Nick Pearson. Like most of the folks who raced the world cup circuit, Nick was very tired, and did not skate to his highest standards.

Nick wryly remarked to me “I skated a 1:08 in 2005, and did not make the Olympic team. This time I go 1:09 and make it.”

This is his transition step into a low-25 second lap inner turn. This must be HUGE pressure to control. Congrats Nick.

Very tight final scoreboard. 4 men all within a tiny, tiny margin of each other. Just one goes to the games.

Women’s 5k

As expected, Maria Lamb was the class of the event. In her final shot at this Olympic team, she really went for it. She was quite a bit ahead of the rest of the field at the bell lap.

During her final turn, through the lactic haze, she stumbled, almost crashed.

Righting herself, I could see the look on her face “did I just screw up my chance at the Olympic team!?!?!?”

What do we watch sports for? We watch for moments like this, for Maria fighting through the mistake, and urging her siezed legs to take those last few steps, and make the Olympic team by the slimmest of margins.

Her tears from after the 3k were now tears of joy.

Men’s 10,000m

LT speedskating is a mesmerizing blend of precision and pain. It’s just you & that electronic eye.

The men’s 10k is a sufferfest. To win this involves skating almost 28mph for 16 minutes. Its an incredible test and the specialists in this event are a breed apart. No one EVER questions their toughness. I’ve skated 4 10k’s. Each is a memory that will never leave me.

Pat Meek threw everything into this, led Trevor Marsicano for much of their race, and paid for it. You can see the marks his skates made as he was on his way to collapse. A 20 second personal best was not enough.

Scenes like this are common immeadiately after a 10k.

Ryan Bedford & Paul Dyrud have a lot of years in this sport. They started out suicide fast, after their first few laps, they were at least 5-6 seconds up on the leader, Trevor Marsicano.

Going into the last lap, Ryan still had several seconds in hand, but then he lost it. His body said “NO FREAKING WAY!” but his will was stronger.

I publish these images not to make fun of Ryan’s collapsing technique. This level of suffering and effort won him a slot on the Olympic team. I publish them to remind us all to skate, or face life, with courage like Ryan.

To “skate a Bedford” should mean something to everyone who saw this.

Here is final picture from trials. Ryan’s pair Paul Dyrud.

Step by step with Ryan almost all the way. Paul also threw down a huge personal best on the day it counted.

He is being comforted by his girlfriend, and in the distance, Ryan is skating towards the crowd that is still screaming & cheering for what he accomplished.

Olympic trials, Part II, day 3

The 1500m will drop you into the deepest recess of the pain cave. Even when you are on your way to a personal best, or an Olympic team, it arguably hurts more than any other moment.

In fact, one of my favorite videos I have ever done for this website, was all about the 1500m. The soundtrack was the Police song “king of pain”

The women’s 1500m has an unusual twist to it, as it was not clear if we will have 3 or 4 slots at the games. So the winner of this race might go to the Olympics, or might not.

The Vancouver games will be Catherine Raney-Norman’s 4th. She has been the dominant skater at US women’s all-around nationals for several years now.

It’s not that way right now, other athletes have matured and raised their game to meet the RaneyKat. She was good for 4th on this day.

I was publishing many photos of the “ugly” moment of a crossover, as I belive this early pressure is what creates speed. But Anna Ringsred skates so precisely, why publish any moment but this one?

Interesting how identical her angles are to RaneyKat’s above. The slight differences in blade setdown and shoulder height are proabably because Catherine is about 120 meters into the 1500, accelerating, and Anna is about 520 in, maintaining top speed.

Again, I missed the winner of the women’s event. Heather Richardson was clearly the fastest. But it’s not clear if she will skate the 1500m in the games. It’s all bound up in ISU rules that read like ancient Aramaic. She will already skate the 500 & 1000.

On to the mens 1500m!

Here are the last few steps of my friend Keith’s speedskating career. Is it fitting that it’s the final straightaway of a 1500m? He has worked so hard, for so many years. Good luck Keith…. don’t go too far away, ok?

Connor Slivocka, showing some teeth in the last 100m. Connor is still young, and going man fast. You will see him around for many future Olympic trials.

Michael Stein-Stewart, on the pads. Is he dead? No, you can still see the lungs heaving…..

Mike is a classy guy, and a skater with tremendous corner technique. I do not know if he will continue with skating, but I do know that if he retires, the Utah skate tribe will be less without him.

Pat Meek and Ian Baranski, Veterans. Working. Sacrificing. At the rink ALL the time. Ian even has a law degree, and came back to speedskating, for his shot at the team.

The 1500 is not their best race, but they skated personal and season bests today.

Brian Hansen was one of about 5 guys who could have won that final 1500m spot. He had a tremendous finish, and won the Olympic team spot in a nail biting race with Ryan Bedford. They traded the lead several times.

There is a reason Brian is the current junior world record holder.

Actually, it’s not one reason, it’s a whole bunch of reasons working together to be able to achieve something like an Olympic team.

The platitudes of talent + hard work & good coaching certainly count as reasons, but in the most brutal distance of the most brutal sport, to go Olympic fast you must have a shouting army of reasons strengthening you when that last lap sets your body on fire.

Here are two important reasons of why Brian is strong. Mom & Dad, so proud.

Rest Day

Digital cameras are indefatigueable. However even incredibly talented photographers are human, like the athletes, and need a rest day.

It’s easy to forget that the skaters are not machines. Every moment of graceful speed is earned through practice & pain.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow…. 1500m!!!

The pain cave awaits!

Olympic Trials, Part II, day 2

The words “family” and “community” are often misused and blurred into a sound bite.

But when you are at Olympic trials, and you see the emotion flowing from family in the stands to the athletes on the ice, when you see the unique community between long track skaters, you know these words are not dead.

This poster is from the family of Alex Mark. Green & white because they are from Philadelphia, and are Eagles fans.

& Alex did them proud, smashing his PB to flaming bits yesterday with a pair of fine mid 36 second 500’s. This is him the moment of starting his celebration as he looks at he scoreboard.

Day 2 and already many athletes felt tired. So did your blogger. I missed the start of the women’s 1000m! Deepest apologies. I will get another shot at the women’s 1k on Wednesday. Especially as there was a surprise win by Michigan skater Kelly Gunther.

But the men’s 1000 was fast & furious. Joey Lindsey & Chris Needham at absolute warp speed, 500 meters into the 1000. Chris was 4th & Joey 7th. I would bet significant karma cash that you will see Joey on a world cup team sometime in the next few years.

Matt Plummer & Clay Cholewinski had an awesome race, then joked about it after. So many of these athletes know each other so well. Clay is having a breakout trials. Like Joey, you will see him on the world cup circuit in the next few years.

Nick Pearson was 4th in the 1000m in the 2002 Olympic games. He did not make the 2006 team. He is a veteran with some serious karmically unfinished business. He is top 10 in the world in the 1000m, and is skating that way.

Women’s 3000m

In one of the first pairs, 1998 Olympic 3,000m bronze medalist Jen Rodriguez steps to the line. She has been concentrating on her sprints, and she rips out a great time. 4:10.

One of my closest friends in the sport, Carla Langenthal, chased Jen in this pair, and skated a huge PB, and her best overall finish at US nationals so far. 5th overall.

These black SWIFT team skinsuits look like secret superhero wear.

April Medley has a new coach this year, and changed her style in some crucial ways. She seems happy with the changes.

The last pair had two of the strongest, Nancy Swider Peltz Jr, and Maria Lamb. I will let Nancy’s Narration take over here-

Nancy: I was probably the most nervous of my entire life for this race. I’ve been nervous before World cups, and those have been my worst races.

When I get nervous I clamp up, get tight, and a lot of the race is a blur

This was the hardest race of my life. Maria gave me a run for it.

You started fast, and then Maria caught you just before the bell lap, I thought you were toast.

But somehow you reaccelerated. You found something & passed Maria in the final turn.

Nancy: I had to win it, I gave everything I got, I had nothing afterwards. I walked off the ice and collapsed on one of the blue pads. I couldn’t stand up. It was the worst pain of my life.

How does it feel, Nancy Swider-Peltz, Jr, Olympian?

Nancy: It has not sunk in yet.

I have been asked, “how does it feel to share the same title as my mom”. My mom has been an Olympian, and now I am a Olympian with her, and that means more to me than anything else. I am so proud to follow in her footsteps.

I will not publish the picture I have of Maria after. She was in a lot of pain, and not just physical. Nancy & I both remarked how there are so many good people, and so few slots.

Nancy reminded me though “Just wait for the 5,000m, Maria will come after that really hard.”

Men’s 5,000

The lap times one needs to skate in a modern 5,000m are just becoming scary fast. If you want to win, you better prepare to skate almost 30mph for 3.1 miles. The winner averaged 29.4

There were many back & forth battles. The 5k can get personal in a way that a sprint race is just too short to be.

Paul Dyrud & Brian Hansen.

Ryan Bedford & Jonathan Kuck

Brian Hansen & Nancy Swider Peltz Sr (who coaches many skaters). Over their shoulder Ryan Bedford grabs a draft From Jonathan as they continue their duel.

Trevor Marsicano, deep in the pain cave… He came out on top this day & will Join Shani & Chad on the 5,000m Olympic team.

The top 3 were Trevor, Jonathan and Brian. That youth movement I was talking about.

Wow… if the day was not exhausting enough, the nuclear eyes of televison turned its gaze onto our microscopic sport, and Stephen Colbert was at the US championships.

I had been contacted by a producer for the Colbert report, asking if I could do some on ice camera work for them. Turns out they did not need me.

However, there was one picture I wanted to get, and I got it.

Watching Steven work, I was very aware this was a world class comedian, as good at what he does as our Olympic team is at skating fast.

He has about a half dozen “faces” he used for photos like this, and was flowing through them with amazing smoothness. This is his talent, his craft, and he is as sharp at it as our skates are sharp. Here is him with Tyler Goff, for example-

I think the top photo is the “real” Stephen, and Tyler somehow brought out the “other Stephen”.

Just from watching him interact with the athletes & the swarming crowds, he seemed a deeply genuine person.

Olympic Trials, Part II, day 1

The day after Christmas/solstice dawns cold, clear; a squeaky snow kind of day that makes you want to wear your parka all day long.

A good day to be skating INDOORS. So many athletes have given up so much to be here. It’s Olympic trials, part 2.

75% of the Olympic team has already been picked via the world cup results, but now it’s a struggle for those last few spots.

The crowd was much smaller than Milwaukee, but local skater Parker Vance had some really supportive (and loud) fans.

And yes, they are only a handful of people in the world faster than Parker. So for 99.99% of those reading this sign in person and here on the web, yes, it’s true.

Not sure who these fans were cheering for- but it’s all in the intense spirit of Olympic trials. (added note: this is the family of Rebekah Bradford).

All those years of training, all about today.. Pat Meek is really a 5k specialist, but a lot of distance skaters do a 500m just to get the race jitters taken care of before it’s their turn to shine. I wish I could do a 5k for the same reason.

Here is Mia Manganello doing those little things right that create big speed, this is her final crossover stroke, and straightaway transition into the backstretch.

She is on her way to a nice PB, note her coach Matt Kooreman’s excellent coaching technique, urging his athlete onward.

Anna Ringsred and Beckah Bradford ripping up the backstretch. They ended up 2nd & 3rd overall on this day. They are both finesse skaters with reletively long legs, and if your body type is like that, it’s good to watch these two closely, they both get everything out of their pushes.

Lauren Cholewinski zipping through the final corner, on her way to an Olympic team. Lauren is a blazing bundle of fast twitch muscle fibre. Her challenge was technique. Oh how she has learned!

I had published a picture of Lauren’s mom (with permission), after her son Clay’s horrid crash last October. This is the other end of things, she is jumping through the air, & celebrating her daughter’s success. This is one happy mom.

Speedskating is 99% sacrifice and pain. But that 1% is unlike anything else in the world. We have seen mom’s 1% smile, here is Lauren’s- She is now an Olympian. Full results for the women are here.

Chris Needham, in his 4th & final Olympic trials. Soul on fire & good for 7th place. This is the last 20 meters of his 500, but I have an identical image from 80 meters into his race.

People come from a smattering of other sports into speedskating. Tony Sargent has taken possibly the hardest journey, from a top level golfer to a speedskater. He likes this race face, & skated a huge PB in today races. The day it counted.

Robert Lawrence, the newly crowned USA junior short track champion. He skated a 2 hour ST workout this morning, and just is racing for “fun”.

The slight twist you see in his spine is not “orthodox” turn technique, but it works very well for Robert to get that extra tiny bit of pressure from his extremely muscular & compact frame.

Mitchell Whitmore grabbed the last Olympic team spot in the 500m. The impressive thing was how physically ON he was. He did not skate clean races, and still came out on top.

Here he his, shoulder to shoulder with Brent Aussprung, a few meters from the finish, and then Brent congratulating him, as the enormity of it is sinking in to both men.

Losing is never easy when racing is the focus of your life. But there is no shame at being this good, going this fast, and missing by a tenth.

Many tremendous athletes are staying home this February, people who would be on the Olympic teams from many other countries.

Look how close this results board is! Measure your self-esteem, weigh years of effort in tenths, in hundredths, and desperately hope you come out on top. .

So few do. Today, just one….

These results are for the 2nd 500m. The team was the combined times from both races, full results for the men are here.

Matt Plummer threw it all in, skated the races of his life, and missed the Olympic team by a whisker.

Both Matt & Brent are total class acts, and the first thing they did was congratulate Mitch.

Just another triumphant and heartbreaking day at the soulblender called Olympic trials.

Olympic Trials Day 3

A bigger crowd, a weekend crowd, and the 1500m pain cave for both the men and the women…

If you are not a speedskater, someday ask an experienced long tracker about the 1500. Note the sudden change in the facial expression as the memories all come rushing back.

It’s probably the most complex race to train for, to pace correctly, and it really, really hurts. It feels like one can do far more damage to the body in a 1500 where you really go for it, than in a 2 hour bike race.

On to the races!

Maria Lamb, big lean/pressure, and flying past 3 time Olympian Catherine Raney about 600m into the race, made the 1500m team. Stunningly, Catherine did not.

Anna Ringsred trains with a group of international athletes up in Calgary & shows excellent corner pressure here.

Anna was chasing Heather Richardson, who started out fast like most sprinters. Anna fell behind, clawed her way back, and then with one lap to go. Somehow Heather reaccelerated through the pain of the last 100m

Heather made the 1500 team, Anna, a few meters back, just missed.

But the real story of the day was former world sprint champ & Olympic medalist Jennifer Rodriguez. As she blasted off the line in the 1500m, the lights of the Pettit almost look like a runway, and she is accelerating into that moment of just soaring skyward.

She said afterwards to me that she used to get really nervous for races, but now it’s hard to get excited after so many years. Even the Olympics can feel like just another race.

But you would never know that is in her mind, as her body races with focus and intensity, and she won the 1500m by over 2 seconds.

Like a lot of people who grew up inline racing, she has a stylistic habit of reaching really far to the inside with her left leg (Derek Parra did as well.)

The thing is, Jen & Derek can create pressure during that reach. Most can’t.

Onto the men…

Marty Haire, 2 time Masters Allaround Champion, keeping the young-uns honest & throwing down a solid race. Swift Skinsuit? Pshaw.. Marty rocked in his Saratoga club skin..

Marty, Bruce Connor, Brian Boudreau and myself reprented the masters world decently well in Oly Trials. Speaking of the Boudreau-isaurus Rex, wow… What a 1500m

On the Brian Scale of 1-10, I think it was a 13. The challenges of being a masters skater, of combining a job, age, & elite level training are truly steep. It’s just awesome to see a guy in his 40’s throw down hard & beat some of the young men who train full time at this.

But as the 1500m pairs went on, the field narrowed from those of us “happy to be there” to the people who want to make a World Cup/Olympic team,

Nick Pearson, big guy, big speed, big lean. Just missed the team by a tiny amount.

Shani Davis–he is one of the most perfect technical skaters out there. Is he strong? yes, certainly, but he is also efficient and precise. These few steps, 600m into his 1500, are poetry in 26 second lap motion.

I don’t think anyone would describe Chad’s skating as poetry, I think it’s more Texas Football. However if you look at his push direction in slo-mo, it’s as precise as Shani’s.

Chad skated a shockingly fast 1500m. In fact, it was a new Pettit National Ice center record. Here he is, in the last 120 meters of his 1500, giving the finger to all those people who had written him off & declared his career over in the rough years since the 06 games.

Well, actually, that’s his index finger, but still, it’s a funny thought…

And finally here, this is your men’s world cup team. The veterans Chad & Shani. And the youth movement in Trevor Marsicano, Johnathan Kuck & Brian Hansen. Brian’s dad told me he was happy that his son was “flying under the radar” until this competition. Well. He is on the radar now. Congrats all.

US Olympic Trials, Day 2

As beautiful as yesterday was, today was AWFUL. Rain & slop coming down. Gotta love the upper Midwest (please pour me some hot chocolate please!)

Skater Anne Bruckner told me, reflecting on the day’s races.

One person’s dreams is another’s heartbreak.

And it’s so true. This is a sport. There are winners and losers. We do it for these reasons; it brings out the best in us. Winning teaches, and losing often teaches more. But it’s still hard to see the heartbreak in so many good people, who have all gone “all in”.

Enough Philosophy, onward to the races!

KC Boutiette. 4 time USA Olympian, just doing the 5k for giggles. Derek & Chad might be the “face” of inline to ice, but KC is the trailblazer.

I would not have ever thought about tying ice speedskating, if his career had never happened

So thanks K.C. from me, and a whole lot of other inliners who are now on the ice.

Nancy Swider Peltz, on her way to a fine performance, women’s 3k. The top 3 women were all within .32 of each other.

Now Nancy is one of the best technical skaters out there, and she might object to this image as less than perfect technique. But yaknow, this is her last corner of a scary fast 3k.

Nancy told me she did not have a great day, so even though this is imperfect technique, I will tell your what is perfect here in this image: dedication, effort, drive, suffering, and how hard she has trained for her whole friggin life to answer this very moment.

Jilleanne Rookard, aggressively tackling that difficult first turn in the 3k. She skated with tremendous power and drive. This looks more like 1500m body position! She took the overall 3k win. The top 3 women were all within .3 of each other. Did Jill win it here?

The media room upstairs, a good place to watch from. AP & Reuters were here, as well as Peri Kinder, who was Twittering away results right in the middle of the photo.

People ask me if I am on twitter, or if I will ever do it. I am sure I’d love it, so that is EXACTLY why I don’t want to. Why put another digital crack pipe in my life?

Matt Plummer, 3rd warp speed corner, in the 1000. Matt is ON, lots of powerful things happening here. He was good for 11th

Tyler Goff usually is a gamer who steps it up during the big races, but he was skating with a severely torn abductor muscle. Every step with his left foot created this expression on his face. Ouch. Heal soon good buddy.

Shani & Nick went 1-2 in the 1000m. Shani beat everyone else by 2 full seconds. Here they are at top speed, about 400 meters into their race. The 1000m, like the 1500, you need to shift into a “5th gear” of sustainable high speed, and hold it. These two amazing athletes are in 11th gear here.

And then in the final turn, Shani cruises by Nicks pain face. I can’t imagine going this fast.

Pat Meek, 5k. In all the videos I have of this race, those of us who train with Pat were really LOUD, cheering him on, because we want all that sacrifice we saw be rewarded. He threw down hard, and was 8th.

Paul Dyrud, Satisfaction of a good 5k (6th) and smiling at the cheering & noise from family and skate-tribe friends. I bet his legs feel like he has been beaten with hammers, but when you see your family, so proud, that is a stronger feeling than mere pain..

Those of us on the ice side of the pads know that we would be so much less without those in the stands.

Jonathan Kuck is part of the youth movement reverberating through speedskating. He is 19, but already skating man-strong times.

He placed 4th in the 5k and 1500m, qualifying him for the world cup in both distances.

In this series you can see his zig-zag weight transfer using the whole lane. What a style like this is trying to accomplish is using the body weight to create pressure in addition to the push from the muscles. He is falling from push to push.

Yes, the path traveled is somewhat longer, but the velocity created is greater. This does not work at sprint velocities, but it can work really well in the 5k & 10k.

Here is something that the cameras missed, when Shani beat Chad’s time in the 5k by a few tenths, who was the first person out to congratulate him. Chad.

Are they competitors? Yes, absolutely. But there is also clear respect there. These 2 men are some of the best in the world, and because the other one exists, they both raise their game.

And it’s not just Chad & Shani, the level of competition, at every distance in these trials, has been absolutely tremendous.

Not to sound too overly nationalistic about this, but athletes don’t appear out of thin air, they are part of a culture, an informal society, a web of families, coaches, training partners, friendships. Despite legit quibbles here & there- there is a pretty good skating culture here.

When an Olympic team is eventually named, they do represent “us”, in all our good & bad, and it’s not too weird to take pride in them, just as they take pride wriggling into that National team skinsuit with the USA on the back.

Olympic trials, Day 1

It was one of those simply achingly beautiful fall days that makes you want to walk in the woods with a book of Thoreau quotes, and lose yourself in imagination, and leaves falling thick as multicolored snow.

One has to find some way to kill time before a 6pm race start!

At the rink, the wind was blowing. How does the wind blow indoors? They have these fans at the Pettit center that start a circular wind. The effect is a constant tailwind through most of the rink. It makes you MUCH faster. Standing at the start line, you could actually feel it pouring past you, freezing the backs of your legs.

You can see even the huge, tapestry weight American flag at one end of the rink rippling in the wind. This is a really big flag.

I am not sure of the purist ethics of using fans to make a sea level rink- altitude rink fast, but it’s sure fun to skate.

My hat is also off to the new ice techs at the Pettit center, you can tell they really care. The ice is the best I have EVER seen it, hard, grippy, thin, and just a lot of fun.

The time was at hand, Olympic trials began. I like this pairing of images, one from my walk, the other with the Heather Richardson & Jen Rodriguez zipping down the 100m

It was a day of AWESOME skating. There is nothing more inspiring and heartbreaking than Olympic trials. All sports are hard at the elite level, but in my life experience, there is something so beautiful, as well as soul wrecking, inherent in ice speedskating.

Before I start with the pictures & commentary, these are the shoes of Chris Needham. He was standing on the start line for one of his 500m races, when I noticed his shoes right next to me. Would you step into these shoes? It’s a scary step…

Chris has thrown his soul into the fires of this sport, The world cup team was the top 5, and he was 7th on this day.

Here is Mia Manganello. She’s really not a 500m skater, but is showing awesome form here for a solid 10th place.

The awesome power of Eli Ochowicz exactly .5 after her first movement, probably .75 or .8 after the gun went off.

I heard that for sprinters, how far they get down the track in the first second of a race almost exactly correlates with the finish order.

She won both 500m events handily. You can see full women’s results here

The US national Sprint team ran the table in the women’s races, places 1 through 5.

Then it was time for the Men—

Here is Robert Lawrence, opening in a 10.1, in the locker room later, he told me he was amazed he went that fast.

Robert, I present evidence to you of why, check out your body position! Remember he is attaining low precision like this with the tempo of a machine gun.

Brent Aussprung, collecting himself in a quiet moment, & getting ready to execute what he has practiced over and over…

And then something horrific happens—

Lawrence Ducker falls and slides into Clay Cholewinski. Both skaters hit the wall, and Clay flips over it and impacts the running track and concrete on the other side violently.

If you look at the final 2 images, notice Clay’s leg in the air, then the last image is is OTHER leg, as he hits the ground so hard it snaps the clap mechanism open.

Lawrence was up soon. Clay did not get up.

I have trained with Clay for several years, and it was agonizing to watch this.

I realized at that moment we need some ritual in speedskating, like when football players gather on one knee in midfield, gathering together when a fellow athlete is down and it looks bad.

Clay did finally get up. That is his mother with him (I chatted with her on the flight out to Milwaukee). Clay was bruised & battered, but ok.

And Clay did a reskate, and did a 36.6! He is a low-key kind of fellow, but I think all skaters will now acknowlege that he has BALLS OF STEEL!! That must have been so hard.

Remember Brent? Trying to gather his thoughts? After that long intermission, it was his turn, and he went scary fast. 2nd only to Tucker Fredricks, awesome skating.

Yeah, Tucker. It’s weird, like Elli Ochowcz, Tucker has absolutely dominated the 500m men for a few years now. He is an absolute rockstar in performance, but other skaters get more press.

Two friends of mine, Parker Vance, and Matt Shanahan, two of the fastest starters in the USA after Tucker. Lots of fast twitch fibers between these two.

But this sport can be cruel. Matt has worked so hard, and this trials was not what he wanted it to be.

But another Matt had great success. Matt Plummer in Grey, was THRILLED with 5th overall. Mike Blumel, missed the world cup team with 6th. A total of .3 between these two after the 2 500m races. Nice compact form for both athletes here.

And what can you say About Shani? Or the big guy Nick Pearson? 3rd & 4th places after two 500’s

You can see the complete results here

As for my own races, I skated well, not stunningly, but given the time I have to train, it was about a 7 on a scale of 1-10.

38.11 and 38.22. Both races had really good parts, a slip in the first turn of race #1, a bobble 3 steps into race #2. I should have nosed under 37 with both races if I had skated perfectly, but not by much.

21st overall out of the 30 men. I knew I’d be somewhere around there. Even at my absolute best low-37 sea-level races from a few years ago, I would have been no higher than 15th.

The really weird part was the 2nd corner of my first race completely disappeared from my memory. I crossed the finish line and had no recollection of what I had just done.

My coach said it was a fine turn.. Hmmm. Maybe I should try to “not think”.

Olympic Trials, my 2nd trials. Over. Probably will never stand on this mountaintop again.

Maybe I will, maybe not, and that’s ok. I’m happy.

In the blizzard of emotions running through the athletes here, I feel strangely centered. I think it’s another thing I need to thank my Daughter for.

Chad’s 10,000m World Record

Another video I produced for Chad's Website, this is the last 500m of his grueling 10k world record race, and there are a few words with Chad afterwards.

Press the start button and enjoy!

It’s only fitting, that when it came time for Chad to add his name for the second time to the world record “wall of honor”, that his close friend and training partner Derek Parra, who inspired Chad to throw everything he has into ice, gave him a hand to put the unwieldy record into place. There was some good natured kidding of Derek from the watching crowd, saying that his home depot training was being quite useful. I think he was almost as happy for Chad as Chad was for himself.

Olympic Trials, The Pain Cave (Day 3 and 4)

“I really went for it in that race, and I was really deep in the pain cave.”

Brain Boudreau, talking about his 1000m on day 2

I overheard my friend Brian saying this, and it just stuck in my head. The PAIN CAVE!!

That so wonderfully describes that deep place where focus and determination meet searing agony. In most sports, especially team sports, the objective is to either dish out pain, or avoid it. In metric speedskating, often the objective is to find the deepest pain cave that you can, and enter it willingly, as the more pain you can absorb while keeping the technique together, the faster you go.

Here are some beautiful Pain Cave moments from the 1500m on day 3. This is Chris Callis & Derek Parra, two experts of pain cave spelunking, 350 meters from the finish of the 1500. Ouch. Parra, against all odds, threw down a fantastic race, passing Chris on this moment, and grabbed that last Olympic team 1500m spot. Chris poured his soul all over the ice this week, skated with class, and just missed another Olympic team.

On day 4 Chad Hedrick set a world record in the 10,000m. Skating his 25th and final lap at 28.9!! That is faster than many peoples last lap in the 1000 or 1500!! What a mutant! Here is his final step through the longest of speedskating’s pain caves.

My friend Carla Langenthal continued her excellent trials, skating a fine 8th place finish in the 5k. Here she and Heidi Miller-Shockley are being urged on by their coach on the final lap. Note the fine technique of all three of these people!

I had my own lovely moments in the Pain Cave myself. My wife, brother, mom, and many friends are all sick, and I am slowly catching it. From the exciting stuff I was hacking up from my lungs, I knew before my 1000m race that I would have to have to be really fast through 600m, because after that, it was going to to be a deep trip into the lactic underworld.

I practiced my first 300m over and over in warmup, checking every aspect of technique that could launch me into top speed. I resolved to simply make this 1000m a maximum effort from start to finish. This is often called “skate-to-die”. When it works, it can really work, but when it goes bad, rigor mortis sets in and the finish line is an eternity away.

When the race began, I scorched the first 200m in 17.19, and my first lap in 26.44, both splits were my fastest ever. For one of the first times, I could hear my coaches screaming my lap spilts at me, so I knew I was on fire before I felt the flames. It started to get truly ugly in the final backstretch, and by the middle of the final corner, where this pic is from, I had locked completely up. However the ice was so fast, and I had such velocity, I slowed down to a 29.59. A new fastest final lap too.

I risked, and it worked! a fantastic new PB, 1:13.22!!! 1.2 seconds faster than my previous 1k at trials! I let out a howl of happiness, and then just about collapsed (well, coasted around with my head between my knees). I do have an image of my face from about 30 seconds after the finish, but its so horrible looking, it doesn’t look real, and people would think I was mugging for the camera if I posted it. I kind of looked that that villian from the horror movie “scream” but with a reddish tint. It was almost 10 minutes before I could move easily again.

This has been the season of the 1000m so far, I have improved almost 4 seconds from last year’s 1000m PB of 1:17.10. And my 500m only by .35

This past August I asked Boris, in a joking fashion, “what do you think my best 1000m time for this year will be?” After a short and intense ponder, he said “Oh, probably a 17 opener, 27 first lap, 29 second lap, a 1:13 final time” I looked at him like he was nuts, but that dude has a skating magic-8 ball that speaks truth somewhere in his mind, and he has been eerily right over and over (and not just about me, he has done this accurate time prediction numerous times).

It has not really emotionally even registered at all within me that it is 2006, even with the nice party I went to this evening… Other things have been taking all my brain cells, I think I burnt them all up lighting my way through the pain cave.

Happy new year… (what year is it again?)