Davis looks to distance himself from pack in SochiRichardson, Bowe form potent 1-2 punch for U.S. ladies
The chase after a three-peat just may steal the speed skating show at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Shani Davis, a four-time U.S. Olympian, won the men's 1,000-meter race in 2006 in Torino and repeated the feat four years later in Vancouver. If he blasts through the field to win the 1,000 in Sochi, he would be the first American skater to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals at the same distance.
"I just love being in the position I am now," said Davis, who won two medals at the 2013 World Championships in Sochi. "Years ago, I never thought I'd be as good as I am now. I'm just so thankful that I'm here now."
But he won't be the only show at Adler Arena, which is situated in Sochi's coastal cluster of Olympic venues.
After two Olympic Games in which no American woman medaled in speed skating, 2010 Olympian Heather Richardson and former Florida Atlantic University (FAU) women's basketball star Brittany Bowe are poised to take the world by storm. Bowe set a world record in the ladies 1,000 at the Salt Lake City World Cup in November with a time of 1:12.58.
Even so, Richardson is the world's best in the 1,000, having won the World Cup championship at that distance in two of the last three years.
Davis, Richardson and Bowe are among a team of 19 that will be gunning to add to the 85 speed skating medals won by the U.S. at the Olympics (long track and short track combined), the most in any sport.
Long track competition is spread through almost the entire Olympic Games, beginning Feb. 8, the day after the Opening Ceremony, and continuing through Feb. 22, the day before the Closing Ceremony.
Among those hoping to dance into that Closing Ceremony with at least one gold medal draped from her neck is Richardson, a world champion inline speed skater from High Point, N.C. She moved to Salt Lake City in 2007 after her high school graduation to make the change to skating on ice. Since making the 2010 U.S. Olympic team and finishing sixth in the 500 meters in Vancouver, winning gold in Sochi has been her motivation.
Unless Bowe beats her to the punch in Sochi, Richardson is attempting to be the first American woman to medal in long track speed skating since Chris Witty won the gold in the 1,000 at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
"It's definitely motivation," Richardson said. "I mean, they put out a great legacy for us to chase after."
History isn't the only thing Richardson and Bowe have been chasing on their way to Sochi.
Bowe, who turned to speed skating after graduating from FAU, where she was a three-year starter at point guard for the Owls, has pushed Richardson every inch of the way. When Bowe broke the world record in the 1,000, Richardson finished second.
At the U.S. Olympic trials in December, Richardson won the 1,500-, 1,000- and 500-meter races; Bowe was runner-up in every race.
They practice together, and they socialize together. They share the same apartment in Salt Lake.
"I'm very lucky to have her. She pushes me in training, just like I push her," Richardson said. "Since we live together, we hang out all the time. Dinner together, movies … just enjoying ourselves."
In her final race before Sochi, Richardson won the ladies 1,000 at the World Sprint Championships. She is also a threat to win gold in the 1,500 and 500. Bowe is a medal contender in the 1,000 and 500, and she is also on the pursuit team.
"I think we are favorites to be on the podium," said Bowe, who will make her Olympic debut in Sochi. "If we can make that come true, that would be an awesome honor to have."
The ladies team also includes Jilleanne Rookard, a long-distance specialist who helped the United States to a fourth-place finish in the team pursuit in Vancouver, and Maria Lamb, who won the 5,000-meter race on the final day of the Olympic trials to make her third Olympic team.
And not to be forgotten is Sugar Todd, a roommate of Richardson and Bowe who won the bronze medal in the 1,000 at the Olympic trials with a personal-best time of 1:15.72.
Other members of the ladies team are Lauren Cholewinski, Kelly Gunther and Anna Ringsred.
While Bowe has pushed Richardson for record times in the ladies races, two-time Olympian Brian Hansen and a number of other younger skaters have done the same for Davis.The Chicagoan jokes about being the old man of the Olympic team now.
"I wish I was Brian's age. Those were the fun days," the 31-year-old Davis said, laughing about it during a break at the Olympic trials. "I'm a race car. You've got to put the best oil in it; you've got to keep it tuned up so on race day it goes the fastest."
Just don't question the determination of this aging race car.
"Any time I step out on the ice and I put my hood on, I have something to prove to whoever is watching," Davis said. "I train hard; I've been doing it for 25 years, since I was 6 years old."
A silver medalist at the last two Olympics in the 1,500, Davis has won more than 60 World Cup medals. He finished second in the overall standings at the World Sprint Championships, trailing only the Netherlands' Michel Mulder.
Hansen was runner-up to Davis in the 1,000 and 1,500 at the Olympic trials, finishing just a hundredth of a second behind Davis in the 1,000. Hansen won bronze in the 500. Joey Mantia finished in third place in the 1,000 with a personal-best time of 1:07.88.
"U.S. long track can be one of the best teams in Sochi, I think," Hansen said.
Other members of the men's team are Jonathan Garcia, Jonathan Kuck, Emery Lehman, Patrick Meek and Mitch Whitmore, whose victory in the 500 secured him a second Olympic nomination. Kuck won a silver medal in team pursuit at the 2010 Olympic Games.