A new world record!
I felt just like I always do.
As I skated to the starting line for Sunday’s World Cup 1,000-meter speedskating race at the Utah Olympic Oval, it was just like any other race. In fact, it was my fourth of the weekend.
I’d gotten a huge personal best in the 500 meters on Friday, and skated two more races (500 again and a 1,500) on Saturday. I woke up on Sunday, just like I had the previous two days, ate my breakfast and hung out around the house, waiting until it was time to go. I headed to the Oval and went through my prerace routine, just like I had all weekend.
And then I skated a new national and world record.
I never think about records. I focus on my race and try to get onto the podium consistently. It’s hard enough to do that. I don’t even know if you can blink in a hundredth of a second, and that’s what it comes down to in speedskating. My teammate (and housemate) Heather Richardson was just .03 seconds behind me in Sunday’s race, and she could have easily set this record. A tenth of a second can separate first through 10th place, and a hundredth can separate first through fourth. Let’s just say, every move you make counts.
When I’m starting a race, I just completely narrow down my vision and focus on what’s directly ahead of me. On Sunday, I remember thinking to myself, “OK, I have to have a good, strong opener.” The opener is the first 200 meters of the race, and coming out of my second turn I saw my coach, Ryan Shimabukuro, with the lapboard. It said 17.8 seconds -- my fastest first 200 meters ever.
That boosted my confidence, and I went on to have my fastest one-lap time of 26.5. Seeing that fueled my fire even more. I was attacking the race. I knew it was going to be a fast time, that I had a great pace on the final backstretch and that I came across the finish line in first. But I had no idea I’d set a world record until I looked up at the board and it was flashing “WORLD RECORD.” I was ecstatic!
I saw Ryan on the back straightaway with his hands in the air. I threw my hands up, too, and had this feeling of being completely victorious. It’s one of the best feelings an athlete can have. My mom, dad and godmother were there, too, and I spotted them and gave them one of my biggest smiles ever, along with a little thumbs-up.
It’s honestly a blur after that. I didn’t get to revel in my new record for too long. It was only two hours before I had another race to do -- the Team Pursuit -- with Heather and our teammate Jilleanne Rookard. All three of us had tired legs from the weekend, but it was a really exciting race. We set a national record on our home ice and won a bronze medal for the first time since 2009.
After the Team Pursuit there was a ceremony where I got to go up and take the plaque for the existing world record and replace it with mine. It was a really special moment for our team and the coaching staff.
But besides having my name on that wall, I’m the same athlete I was on Saturday, before any of this happened. It’s funny, because when I go back and look at the video of my race, there are quite a few things I could have done better. My race strategy and how I attacked it was perfect. But there are different technical aspects I can nitpick when I really study it: small things like keeping my right side down in the corner, for example. You have to be a student of the game to be successful, and it’s promising when you can say that with a world-record performance I still have things to improve on!
I had one day to rest, and then it was back to the airport to fly to Kazakhstan, where we’ll be for 10 days leading into the next World Cup race. I’ve been there once before, a couple of years ago, and I remember that when we got there it was really futuristic. All the buildings resembled things that could shoot off into space at any moment. I thought it was really bizarre, but also really neat.
When I get on the line there, it’s right back to where we were last weekend -- it’s anyone’s race to win. In speedskating, it’s 36 or 37 seconds for the 500 meters, one minute 12 seconds for the 1,000, and every move is cutthroat. As we all know, everything can change in less than the blink of an eye.