U.S. speed skaters seek Olympic berths at Trials in Milwaukee | KOB 4
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U.S. speed skaters seek Olympic berths at Trials in Milwaukee

U.S. speed skaters seek Olympic berths at Trials in Milwaukee Photo: NBC

NBC Olympics
January 02, 2018 01:51 PM

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Brittany Bowe, Shani Davis and Heather Richardson Bergsma. All the big names in U.S. speedskating are at the sport's American mecca for a shot at the Olympics.

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Bonnie Blair's kid is giving it a go, too.

They'll try to earn one of the maximum 16 spots for Pyeongchang, South Korea, at the trials that begin Tuesday and run through Sunday.

Once considered the American mecca of speedskating, the Pettit National Ice Center has been overtaken by the Utah Olympic Oval in recent years as the home for top speedskaters. But Pettit is still an official U.S. Olympic training center and marked its 25th anniversary last year.

The trials are back at the big oval on the outskirts of Milwaukee for the first time since 1998. Tickets for Friday and Saturday are sold out.

"It's not really surprising to me because I think there are a lot of people who have an interest in the sport and it's in a great city," 2014 Olympian Emery Lehman said Monday. "It's just all the great skaters that have come out of here, skaters like Eric Heiden, Dan Jansen, Bonnie Blair."

Five-time gold medalist Blair, married to four-time Olympic speedskater Dave Cruikshank, will be cheering on her daughter, Blair Cruikshank, in the 500 meters.

Pettit is at sea level, the same as the venue in Pyeongchang. Four years ago, the U.S. team had trained too long at altitude despite the Olympics being held near sea level in Sochi, Russia. Their skin suits were problematic, too.

As a result of those and other factors, the Americans failed to earn a medal for the first time since 1984, a stunning outcome for the most successful U.S. Olympic winter sport.

"It was definitely a shock," Lehman said. "By the time the Olympics were done, everyone was kind of sitting there scratching their heads not really knowing what happened or what was the cause."

A banner hanging on the wall at Pettit serves as a stark reminder. There are no medals listed next to the names of any long-track speed skaters from the 2016 Games, in contrast to gold, silver and bronze on the other five banners.

In Sochi, the speed skaters wore their Under Armour suits for the first time, giving them no familiarity with a key piece of equipment before the games. This time, they'll receive them after earning spots on the team. The suits, developed by Under Armour with input from skaters after wind-tunnel testing, are similar to ones most have worn during the World Cup season.

This season has been the least successful for the Americans since Sochi. The U.S. notched just one World Cup win last fall.

However, the World Cup meets merely determined how many Olympic spots a country got in each event. The trials decide which U.S. skaters fill those spots.

Bowe, a former college basketball point guard, missed most of the 2016-17 season because of concussion symptoms.

Richardson Bergsma is seeking her third Olympic berth, still looking for a medal.

Davis, a four-time medalist, is trying to make a fourth Olympic team at age 35. His best finish during the fall World Cup season was 11th.

Also keep an eye on 2014 Olympian Joey Mantia, a former inline skater from Florida. He is the current world champion in the mass start, which will make its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang. The race is skated pack-style over 16 laps, with four sprint laps where points are awarded. The first three skaters across the finish line earn spots on the podium.

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