Twelve years have passed since an American woman medaled in long-track speedskating at the Olympics. That drought not only should end in the next two weeks, the U.S. could place two women on the podium here. And interestingly, they both are from states that don’t often see ice.
World sprint champion Heather Richardson is from High Point, N.C. The world record holder in the 1,000 meters, Brittany Bowe, is from Ocala, Fla. Nonetheless, the two are currently first and second, respectively, in the World Cup rankings for the 1,000.
Because they hail from warm-weather climates, Richardson and Bowe both got their start as in-line skaters.
"I think that a lot of us have followed the footsteps of KC Boutiette, Jen Rodriguez and Derek Parra. They all did it," Richardson said. "I think we were looking for in-line skating to make it as an Olympic sport but we just didn’t see it coming so we took our opportunity on the ice."
Bowe wasn’t just an in-line skater -- she also was a point guard at Florida Atlantic University. "Growing up, being an Olympian was always my dream," she said. "But unfortunately, I realized that in-line skating wasn’t going to take me there. And then playing four years of college basketball, I realized that basketball was not going to be my ticket, either."
Watching friends and competitors reach the 2010 Olympics, Bowe said, made her realize she needed to switch to speedskating. She moved to Salt Lake City that summer and quickly took to the ice. She still won’t rule out playing basketball professionally, but right now she is focused on looking to help the U.S. team to match or better its 2002 medal count of eight medals in speedskating.
"I think that's realistic. We're all pushing each other," Richardson said. "I think it will light a fire to the next person. One person will medal and the next person will want to medal, too."
Bowe said that everyone on the U.S. team helps each other, but Richardson in particular does. "Having Heather next to me, who is one of, if not the the, fastest women in the world is definitely an advantage to have."
Likewise, Richardson says Bowe pushes her. "Just coming from basketball, where she was in the weight room a lot more than I ever had been, coming from in-line -- so she's really strong in the weight room. So just having [her] there makes me think, 'Oh, she has heavy weights on, maybe I should put heavy weights on.'"
Richardson competed in Vancouver but her best finish was sixth place. She has improved significantly since then and is a contender to win in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500. She won all three events at the U.S. Olympic trials last month.
"I think in Vancouver I was just happy to be there," Richardson said. "Here, I want to put in some solid races. Just go out relaxed, do my best and hopefully be on the podium. My goal is definitely is to be on the podium in at least one of my three individual events."
Bowe also wants to step on that podium -- and perhaps get some people in Florida to pay attention to the sport.
"To be honest with you, growing up in Florida we don’t really pay too much attention to the Winter Olympics," Bowe said. “Which is kind of ignorant for me to say, being here now. But I've had the honor of meeting Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, who are the legends of my sport. They’ve taught me a lot and it's been really cool getting to know them and their legacy as I've been building mine."
Speedskating is not the only area the two push each other. Richardson’s basketball game is also improving, thanks to Bowe.
"She's getting better," Bowe said. "She's developed a nice little jump shot for sure."