KEARNS, Utah (AP) — Shani Davis and Heather Richardson cruised to victories in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. speedskating trials Tuesday, leaving little doubt they are the top skaters on a team that should have plenty of medal potential at the Sochi Olympics in February.
“That was a really great race,” Davis said. “I’m really happy with my fitness and conditioning right now. I’m going to look to improve in certain areas, but I have plenty of time to do that before Sochi.”
Davis already had qualified in the 1,000 — the race he won at the last two Olympics. He took first in the 1,500 with a time of 1 minute, 43.20 seconds, clearly eager to improve on the silver medals he settled for in that event at both Turin and Vancouver.
“That would be a big dream come true, to be able to win a gold medal in the 1,500,” Davis said. “I love that race so much.”
Brian Hansen finished second to Davis in 1:43.70 in the 1,500. The other two spots for Sochi were claimed by Joey Mantia (1:44.41) and Jonathan Kuck (1:45.29).
Richardson crossed the line in 1:54.19 in the women’s 1,500 to beat Brittany Bowe for the third straight time at the trials. They also went 1-2 in 500 and 1,000, surely setting up more memorable duels to come in Sochi.
Richardson has always been stronger in the two shorter races, but she’s starting to feel like she could pull out a medal contender in the 1,500, as well.
Three Olympic berths were up for grabs on the women’s side. Jilleanne Rookard took the remaining position in 1:57.70.
Bowe came into the trials ranked ahead of Richardson in the 1,500 standings, but she wasn’t disappointed at all in her performance during the trials. After all, she wasn’t even skating before the Vancouver Olympics, deciding to take up the sport after an inlining career and playing college basketball at Florida Atlantic.
“Four years ago, I couldn’t even skate on the ice,” she said. “My goal was to make the Olympics and to hopefully get on the podium, and I’m one step closer after this week. The pain is worth it and the pain will continue to be worth it.”
Davis, Richardson and Bowe will all go into the Olympics as leading medal contenders on the big oval, and Hansen also has the potential to get on the podium. Throw in Mantia and sprint specialist Tucker Fredricks, two other skaters who have World Cup wins this season, and it’s not unreasonable to think the Americans could make a run at their great team from the 2002 Winter Games, which captured three golds and eight medals overall at this track in suburban Salt Lake City.
At the last two Olympics, Davis was favored in the 1,500 but came up short by a combined 0.70 seconds. He would like nothing more than to add an Olympic victory in that race to his already impressive legacy.
“Somehow, some way, it evades me at the Olympics,” Davis said. “It just gives me that much more motivation to strive for and perfect it. It’s all about winning it in February, not so much about winning it now. I’m sitting in a good position, pretty strong. Hopefully in Sochi, I’ll be the best.”