Mitchell Whitmore claimed the top spot on the medal podium at the U.S. speedskating trials. The real drama was who finished fourth.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis claimed the last berth in the 500 meters Saturday, but only after Jonathan Garcia was disqualified for failing to wear timing transponders on his ankles while skating a personal-best time that would’ve earned him a trip to Sochi.
U.S. Speedskating officials granted Garcia a re-skate about a half-hour later, after everyone else was done. The Texan skated alone, with Davis watching from the infield, but was nearly a half-second slower than his previous time of 34.85 seconds. He glided along the backstretch with his head down, while Davis barely celebrated at all.
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”It’s really unfortunate,” said Davis, who finished behind Whitmore, Tucker Fredricks and Brian Hansen. ”I remember the special feeling I had when I went (to the Olympics) the first time. I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and take the spot, even if it knocked me off the team. He’s a friend of mine. I want the best skaters to go. If someone is clearly faster than me, I want them to go. It’s just unfortunate that rule worked to his disadvantage.”
Whitmore won with a combined time of 1 minute, 9.12 seconds over two races. Fredricks earned his third trip to the Olympics in 1:09.44, while Hansen was next in 1:09.85.
If Garcia’s initial time in the second race had stood, he would’ve been fourth in 1:10.04. Instead, Davis finished fourth in 1:10.21, while Garcia’s performance in the do-over (35.33) was only good enough for sixth at 1:10.52.
”I know that I was good enough to be on the team,” Garcia said, noting that his first time was accurate because the transponder is merely a backup in case the main timing system fails. ”That’s something nobody can take away from me.”
”It’s awful. He skated an amazing race without his transponder,” the winner said. ”If it was up to me, I would have picked him because he went faster.”
Davis is not considered a medal contender in the 500, but he likes to use the event as a training tool for his two best events. He has won gold in the 1,000 and silver in the 1,500 at the last two Olympics.
”I’m happy that I kind of made the team,” he said, ”but I’m kind of sad because (Garcia) skated the race of his life.”
On the women’s side, Heather Richardson breezed to victory in the 500 ahead of friendly rival Brittany Bowe. Along with Davis, they are considered the leading medal hopefuls for the American team at Sochi.
Richardson, a native of North Carolina, and Bowe, who grew up in central Florida, are among the skaters who made the successful transition from inlines to ice. In fact, the third-place finisher, Lauren Cholewinski, is also a former inliner from South Carolina.
”It’s really special this time because all of the inliners are here together,” said Richardson, who will be competing in her second Olympics, as will Cholewinski.
Bowe will be an Olympic rookie, but she hardly looks out of place.
A superb all-around athlete who played point guard on the basketball team at Florida Atlantic, she thought her future was in hoops until she watched the 2010 Vancouver Olympics on television. That inspired her to return to skating, only using blades instead of wheels, and her rise to the top of the sport has been meteoric.
She has the potential to win multiple medals in Sochi, setting a world record in the 1,000 last month and leading the World Cup standings in the 1,500. Competing with Richardson in the same events has spurred them both to greater heights.
”It’s a really special relationship we have,” Bowe said. ”We’re friends, roommates, teammates and competitors. We push each other day in and day out.”
Richardson is the stronger of the two in the 500, and it showed as she posted a combined time of 1:14.19 over two races. Bowe was next at 1:15.51 despite slipping at the start in her opening race, lurching forward awkwardly when her blade stuck in the ice.
Cholewinski (1:16.18) and Sugar Todd (1:16.42) took the other projected spots on the U.S. team. Elli Ochowicz was denied a fourth Olympic berth by just 0.12, finishing fifth.
Ochowicz has another shot to make the team Sunday in the 1,000.
”I’m so proud of Sugar Todd,” the 30-year-old Ochowicz said. ”She’s a first-time Olympian, and I know what that feeling is like and how happy she is.”