Ice Network

Salt Lake shavings: American duo thrives in 1,500

Shimabukuro insists skaters compete in race to maintain edge
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Brittany Bowe (left) and Heather Richardson joined the Netherlands' Ireen Wüst on the ladies 1,500-meter podium. -Getty Images

As longtime friends and training partners, Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson are used to sharing with each other.

And Saturday they shared a historic moment in their speed skating careers as they train to make their Olympic dreams a reality.

For the first time since the former inline skaters converted to competing on ice, they earned a spot on the same 1,500-meter podium.

"My time on the board, I knew it was a good time, and it was going to be a tough time to beat," said Bowe, who set a new national record with a time of 1:52.45. "In the 1,500, it's my first podium. And second place, I can't be mad about that."

The women started the season in B Division. But after finishing first and second last weekend at Calgary's World Cup, the two were moved to the A Division for this weekend's World Cup in Kearns, Utah.

While Bowe set a record and earned a silver medal, Richardson finished third with a personal best of 1:52.55. Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands set her own national record, with a 1:52.08, to claim gold.

"It's a race that they usually don't race internationally," U.S. head long track coach Ryan Shimabukuro said. "It's one we just use for training. But I know they can do well with it."

Shimabukuro said he "made them" race the 1,500 this weekend because it was their home ice and he thought that would add incentive to a race in which neither woman had ever medaled before Saturday.

"I couldn't be happier to be on the podium with my teammate," Bowe said. "That's just icing on the cake."

Both women said they trust Shimabukuro's strategy when it comes to winning when it matters, especially in a season with Olympic dreams on the line. The coach said he likes the athletes to compete the 1,500 when they can because it makes the shorter distances seem so much easier.

"It primes their bodies for those next races," Shimabukuro said. "But again, we have to be careful."

That's because racing in five events in three days in back-to-back weekends can break their bodies down, diminishing their potential in the races in which they excel.

"It's a balancing act," Shimabukuro said of the confidence his skaters gain from doing well in the 1,500. "It definitely helps their head. It confirms they're on the right track, that the training they've been doing is the right thing, and they're doing it when it counts."

Bowe agreed that earning her first podium will help her in the two races she has Sunday.

"Having a really strong lap in my 500, and then having a pretty strong finish in my 1,500 is really promising for the 1,000 tomorrow," Bowe said.

The coach said both Bowe and Richardson will race in all five long track events should they make the 2014 U.S. Olympic team.

"That's the one time they're really motivated to do a 1,500 is at the Games," he said.

Hansen may compete after all

After winning a silver medal in the 1,500 meters on Friday, Brian Hansen told the media that he probably wouldn't compete in the final two World Cups of the season.

Instead, he said he wanted to stay in Utah and train for the Olympic trials, which are scheduled for the end of December.

After two more medals Saturday, however, his parents told Shimakuburo that he may compete in the final two World Cups after all. Part of the concern is the brutal travel involved in heading to Astana, Kazakhstan, this weekend.

"They said Brian was going to decide tomorrow," Shimabukuro said. "He's the only one [considering not competing] that I know of. … We're not too happy about having to travel halfway around the world to a place where there are only two international flights per week."

But the reason to do it is that the competition in Sochi promises to be so fierce, athletes will need every advantage. Seeding for the Olympics is determined by World Cup points.

Tough two weeks

Shimabukuro told his athletes to expect a tough two weeks as they try to ramp up their training while competing in the final two World Cups of the season.

The athletes don't have a choice, he said, if they want to be ready to race their best in Sochi.

"I told them, 'Plan on not feeling great for these next couple weeks,' " he said smiling. "We have to get back to training."