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.

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(This was Rz’s first blog post, complete with links she inserted… I think this is written in some secret code that only toddlers understand)

SLC world cup day 3

(I just need to publish things before time gets out of hand.. This was half done a week ago… meh…)

Snowstorms, rain, horrid weather. I usually like racing and watching in epic nastiness. But this was so bad, everyone was grateful for the indoors. Here is Wang Beixing throwing down the fastest women’s opening 200m EVER. She uses her leg legth for super long pushes & leverage on the ice.

She ended up second overall to Christine Nesbitt.. The Canadian women have their phasers set on ANNIHILATE this year, and I think also some of the best looking skinsuits on the world cup circuit.

Kyle Parrot ripping out a great world cup race. He has improved a lot over the past few years. I met him in Calgary the summer of 2002, my first time at an indoor track. We were close to the same speed back then.

The weird thing about that camp, all those years ago, was also there was superfast Canadian Nicole Garrido, and Ashlee Barnett, who also is skating at the top level in the USA, and does a good amount of childcare for Jess & I. Small world.

Jeremy Wotherspoorn, ripping a 1000m. He has skated some of the most brilliant races I have ever seen in person… Jer, many of us in the Speedskating world are cheering for you. I have chatted with him a few times, this is such a nice guy…

Trevor Marsicano struggling at speed, he did the exact same thing in this high speed corner last year when he was only the second human being ever to skate under 1:07. It’s hard to control a 24-second lap!

Contrasting styles of the uber-smooth “catman” 1998 world sprint champ Jan Bos, and the fighting style of Chad Hedrick… Jan is flowing in his skating, and Chad just fights like crazy. But I have always pointed out that when you slo-mo these top athletes, or just see static images, you can see that their essentials, like push direction, are always perfect. Push direction is what counts.

I think they have named a flower after Jan Bos, it’s a dutch Hyacinth. Here is how it is described, and a direct link. This sounds like a speedskater to me.

The elegant flowers are as fade-resistant as they are beautiful. Grow them outdoors or indoors for their graceful shape, long-lasting blooms and sweet scent. Hyacinths are great for indoor forcing–

But when talking about the 1000, one must talk about Shani. Here is his knee bend angle, torso lifting, push direction. laps 1, 2, 3. Perfection matched to power.

So Reggie Jackson has a candy bar, Jan Bos a flower. What does Shani deserve? I think a car. The “Davis Special”.

Team Pursuit

The US women were on the verge of NOT qualifying for the Olympics, as only the top 6 teams in the world get to go. Here they are, watching the top Dutch team fly by after they have already raced.

They did just manage to BARELY sneak in. Yay!

I’ve talked a lot about the youth movement in American speedskating, and how there are many incredibly talented skaters under 23 years old. These young men skating the team pursuit are a bright part of the the future, Brian Hansen, Trevor Marsicano, and Jonathan Kuck.

After every O-games cycle, there is endless bellyaching when the stars retire. But this time, no matter the results in Vancouver, there is so much reason to be optimistic for a very, very long time.

Light

Low angle winter sunlight slanting into the Utah Oval…

It is two things, it is a photographers dream, and also really quite distracting blasting your eyes for a dazzling second during the last turn of a 500m. It really weirded me out.

Here is a recent short track convert, Joey Lindsey, who is really flying on the long track these days. Videoing him is Don Nelson. They have inline-to-ice programs, but what they really need is short track to long track!

These are the last races before trials, and everyone has an air of expectation. These races really don’t mean something in themselves, they are all to fine tune the body for next week.

Pat Meek, flashing through the light puddle at 31mph (many 29 second laps in a 3k, click on the image for desktop worthy one)


Becky Lang, moving so fast during that perfect moment of sprint velocity, I missed the moment.

But I got this picture, just after her finish, there is something just insane about Becky’s leg/waist ratio here. I showed her this picture, and said “of course I wouldn’t publish it”. She said “why not! You should!”

She powerlifts when she’s not skating. This is one strong lady.

Roger Schneider of Switzerland has already punched his ticket to the Olympic Games in the 5,000m, and this Swiss national record holder is in Salt Lake for some training & racing

He asked me to take some images/portraits of him for a sponsor’s website, just as he was posing, the power in the oval went off. It was fantastic lighting. I love the fact that you can still see the 5,000m effort in his face.

The light patch was really wonderful, Dad this picture is for you.

Keith Carney, a battered skinsuit, and a determined man, driving hard through the turns.

I raced ok in my own 500 & 1000. I’m a skating robot sometimes, the same times over and over. But its ok. When I come home to take a walk with a smile like my daughter RZ has, lap times & speedskating seem so far away, so small, and I am a puddle of light when she smiles at me wearing her N.Y. Mets hat.

Shane Dobbin 4-pic

here we have 4 time inline world champion, New Zealander Shane Dobbin, rocking it on the ice, skating a new personal best, and I believe qualifying (or getting very close) for the O-games. This is during the recent SLC world cup.

I have been talking about the “ugly but essential” moment in the crossover push, and how so often skaters and coaches are looking at the wrong thing. It’s so tempting to look at beautiful extension, and assume that is what creates speed.

This is part of that moment, it’s that placedown of the left foot, and creating pressure immediately-

Thanks to Kim Kraan for this fascinating picture.

Some days…

Some days feel like they need a superhero to give you the thumbs up. Sometimes human effort seems not enough.

The Blue Demon has appeared at the Utah oval before. Especially here & here-

Small sport athletes need that sometimes, to have that tiny moment of superhero recognition commensurate with what this sport demands. With the Olympics at hand, it’s good to feel the world’s attention suddenly revolving towards our microscopic sport.

It’s a blowtorch of love, of appreciation. You don’t have to be an Olympic caliber skater to feel it.

I am no superhero, no Olympian is a superhero. In fact superheros don’t exist. As I get older, it seems that the courage to keep on keeping on through the rough patches of everyday life, with nothing but mortal strength, becomes more & more impressive.

A senior producer from the Colbert Report emailed me. They need someone with experience filming while skating. What they are doing with skating is pretty amazing, and very 21st century. It did feel, for a brief moment, like some weird kind of Superhero thumbs up!

SLC world cup day 2

Sitting at my desk at work, I missed day 1 of the world cup; Missed Jenny Wolf’s 500m womans world record, as well as Shani’s otherworldly 1500m WR (1:41!!!!!!). But rain & snowstorms notwithstanding, I was there for Day 2!!

German Jenny Wolf & Chinese skater Wang Beixing are OWNING the women’s 500m this year. This is a great rivalry of contrasting styles. Jenny has tremendous explosive power & knee drive off the line, but Wang has Wotherspoon-esque leg extension & technique.

These are not beautiful “skating” pictures, but show Jenny’s power & straight-line knee drive as she explodes off the line, and Wang’s top speed leg extension in the last 50 meters of the 500.

Like Jenny Wolf, Russian Dimitri Lobkov has one of those outrageous fast twitch starts.. I also feel for his lack of control at the very highest speeds (been there myself).

In frame #2, you can see his boot touching the ice. He had some time to think about this before he slammed into the wall. He is going about 36-37mph here, and luckily was fine.

Fentong Yu… coiled pure power here. I have loosely based my own starting style on his. I once followed him for a lap in Calgary, his hips were so stable on the turn entry, It was a clinic on “this is how it should be done”.

If there is someone out there who speaks Chinese & knows Fentong. Tell him “thanks” for the technical inspiration.

Tucker Fredericks is really ON right now for the 500m. He had a slip in the first turn, and still was 3rd. When the 0-show happens, Tucker is going to be in the mix for some hardware.

Korea took the top 2 step of the men’s podium, they are flying this year.

In the women’s 1500m, Jen Rodriguez skated a new American record, and was good for 3rd place. Awesome. She will also be in the hunt for the hardware.

This is not a “pretty” skate picture, as the moment of full extension is the “pretty moment”. But it is at this moment where the left skate is carving into the turn, and has greatest pressure, this ugly moment is what really makes you go fast.

Jen Rodriguez skated a new American record. Awesome, 3rd place to 2 flying Canadians, Christene Nesbitt & Kristina Groves.

Here there are, 300m into the 1500, at that crucial transition step into turn #2. The Canadian women are skating amazingly this year.

Except for the top 2, this is a very tight results board.

Men’s 5,000m

I have seen Chad skate a lot of races over the years. I’ve become convinced that his gift is that he is an artist of pain.

Chad goes for very fast early lap times, and pays hard for it by the finish. Most skaters do look like this in the final turn, but Chad still has 4 laps to go here!

And here with his sweet daughter Hadley afterwards. Chad just signed a sponsorship deal with Pampers!

I can spot that smitten daddy smile anywhere, now that I know what it feels like…

But the awesome race of the day must have been from Italian Enrico Fabris. He is my favorite technical skater since Casey Fitzrandolph retired.

Here is how he zig-zags down the straight, generating maximum power from his lean into each push. The last image is Shani chasing. Such a rare image, to see Shani chasing someone.

Enrico, I plan on skating Masters World Champs later this year in Italy. Every practice, I work on exactly this style of zig-zag straightaway pressure during my warmup, so I can survive these 5k’s you have mastered with this physical artistry.