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Heather Bergsma takes break from speed skating

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Heather Bergsma, the top U.S. speed skater over the last two Olympic cycles, is taking at least a two-year break from the sport.

“I do hope to start a family here soon with my husband, so we’ll see what happens,” Bergsma said Tuesday in her native North Carolina on a CBS affiliate, adding later, “I’ll see if I have that drive again.”

Bergsma, 29, was part of the U.S. women’s team pursuit squad that took bronze in PyeongChang, the first medals in U.S. women’s speed skating since the 2002 Olympics.

This trio of Bergsma, Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello reportedly practiced together for the first time just four or five days earlier. Bergsma had not raced a team pursuit in four years. The U.S. women didn’t outright qualify a team pursuit spot for the Games but got in when Russia was excluded as part of its doping punishments.

“When we crossed the finish line and saw that we got third, it was like a sigh of relief,” Bergsma said Tuesday. “Sometimes it’s a really good reminder that it takes a team to get where you’re going.”

It was a bit of redemption for Bergsma, a world champion and world-record holder who finished eighth, eighth and 11th in her first three individual events in PyeongChang.

Similarly, the converted inline skater went into Sochi projected to earn multiple medals by The Associated Press and Sports Illustrated and ended up with a best finish of sixth. The entire U.S. speed skating team underperformed, earning zero medals for the first time since 1984.

Bergsma’s main memory from Sochi came after that sixth-place finish in the 1000m, when she went through the media mixed zone in a daze and then broke down, alone, in an empty hallway at the Adler Arena.

Bergsma rebounded with world titles in 2015 and 2017. She broke the 1000m and 1500m world records on consecutive Saturdays in November 2015 (still holds the 1500m record).

She also married the Sochi Olympic 10,000m champion, Jorrit Bergsma of the Netherlands, in May 2015 and moved overseas.

“I definitely want to learn fluent Dutch,” Bergsma said Tuesday, according to the High Point Enterprise. “That’ll be the first thing when I get back. Then, I want to see career opportunities. Maybe I want to go into coaching – but definitely just younger kids. Nothing too serious. And then we’ll see where it goes.”

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US speedskaters have altitude adjustment for PyeongChang

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — U.S. Speedskating needed an altitude adjustment after getting shut out in Sochi.

Maybe the change will help the United States reclaim golden glory this month at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The U.S. team was left off the medal stand in 2014 after training too long at altitude even though those games were held near sea level in Russia.

Fast forward four years and the Americans have adjusted their preparation routine to spend more time training at the Pettit National Ice Center, one of the sport’s important venues, ahead of the Pyeongchang Games . Like Pettit, the oval in South Korea is at sea level.

“Having them be here is going to give them a similar (feel) on the ice once they get over to Korea,” said Bonnie Blair Cruikshank, a vice president of the Pettit’s board of directors. She’s also speedskating royalty as a five-time Olympic gold medalist who spent much time training at the big rink on the outskirts of Milwaukee.

“It’s a perfect place for them to train and know what they’re going to be feeling like” in South Korea, Blair Cruikshank said.

The Pettit had been overtaken by the Utah Olympic Oval, which is about 4,600 feet above sea level, as the home for top speedskaters in recent years. The U.S. Olympic trials were held in Utah four years ago ahead of Sochi.

A lack of familiarity with high-tech skins suits was among other factors contributing to the embarrassing outcome for the United States in what had been its most successful Winter Olympics sport. U.S. Speedskating held its pre-Sochi camp at a frigid outdoor rink in the mountains of Italy.

This time, the Americans held their camp indoors at the Pettit, where the Olympic trials also were held for the first time since 1998. Another camp at the Pettit in January 2017 sandwiched a visit typically held each year in September.

“Four years ago when we selected our team in Salt Lake, there was a lot of pushback — the Milwaukee people were upset,” said Guy Thibault, U.S. Speedskating’s high performance director. “Sochi is a slower rink, and people were wondering why we’re picking a team at altitude.”

Logistics played a role, too, Thibault noted, with NBC needing the selections to take place in Utah. The short-track trials immediately followed the long-track trials in 2014, and television coverage is good for publicity for a sport that draws the most attention in Olympic years.

The move to Milwaukee worked out this year.

“It’s better for the sport overall,” Thibault said.

At higher altitudes, “there’s less air slowing you down” because the density is thinner, Thibault said. A skater can glide a little more.

“So you’re cutting through the air a lot faster in Salt Lake, hitting a lot higher speeds, a lot less resistance,” said Brittany Bowe , a 2014 Olympian and medal contender this year . Bowe and fellow American Heather Bergsma have dominated the 1,000 and 1,500 distances internationally.

At sea level, it takes a little more energy to cut through the thicker air.

“Therefore the times are slower,” Bowe said. “You just have to adjust the way that you’re skating a little bit, you have to adjust your mental tactics and capacity and realize you’re not going to be hitting those speeds in Salt Lake.”

Olympian Jonathan Garcia said team members have probably spent about eight weeks in Milwaukee in each of the last two years. He feels good heading into South Korea after reaching personal bests at sea level.

“I just think it’s like training with a weight vest for another sport. It gives you that extra resistance that you wouldn’t have in Salt Lake,” Garcia said. “So it’s not so much as a shock to the body.”

Milwaukee offers added comfort because of its speedskating roots .

The Pettit is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Before the Pettit opened in 1992, the location was home to the outdoor Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink, where five-time gold medalist Eric Heiden trained. Blair Cruikshank and another gold medalist, Dan Jansen, trained at the Pettit ahead of the 1994 Winter Games in Lillihammer, Norway.

The return of the Olympic trials in early January drew sold-out crowds, a sign that it may not take another two decades for the most important speedskating event in the United States to return to Wisconsin.

“For the sport, I’m excited for the Olympic trials and the excitement it created,” Blair Cruikshank said. “Now it’s nice that this is the facility where they were (training) in for their final preparations.”

U.S. Olympic speed skating team finalized after trials

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — All Joey Mantia needed to do to qualify for the mass start in the Olympics was to finish at the U.S. speed skating trials.

He took it a little easy to begin the race Sunday before adrenaline kicked in.

The fifth-place finish on Sunday clinched Mantia’s spot in the mass start at the Winter Games, where the reigning world champion has bigger goals in mind.

“I really wanted to let those guys race it out and then I got a little hungry with a half-lap to go. I thought, ‘Maybe I can win this,’” Mantia said.

Brian Hansen took the event with a time of 7:48.24 on Sunday, the final day of the trials.

Mantia and Hansen had already qualified in other events. U.S. Speed Skating added Emery Lehman as a specialist in team pursuit to complete the seven-member men’s squad.

  • Jonathan Garcia — 500m
  • Kimani Griffin — 500m
  • Mitchell Whitmore — 500m, 1000m
  • Shani Davis — 1000m, 1500m
  • Joey Mantia — 1000m, 1500m, mass start
  • Brian Hansen — 1500m, mass start
  • Emery Lehman — team pursuit specialist

Lehman, a 2014 Olympian, will have to interrupt his junior year at Marquette, about a 10-minute drive from the Pettit National Ice Center near Milwaukee.

“I have to email my adviser, withdraw from classes,” Lehman said.

Mantia and Hansen finished one-two in the overall rankings to secure the two entries in the mass start, which makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

“I think we can put together a solid plan. I think he’s on board for working for me, as the designated winner for the Games, but we’ve got to see how it plays out and who’s feeling the best when we get there,” Mantia said. “But I’m very confident having a strong teammate like Hansen.”

The mass start is speed skating’s version of NASCAR. Foregoing the traditional time-trial format, all entries were on the oval at the same time for the 16-lap, 6400m free-for-all that included four sprint laps.

“You never know what’s going to happen in that race,” Hansen said.

Asked if the goal was to help Mantia, Hansen added “We’ve got three weeks. I don’t know what exactly the strategy is going to be yet.”

With 24 entries on Sunday, the men’s race was a little more hectic than the eight-entry women’s race in which Heather Bergsma finished second and Mia Manganello third.

That gave each skater, who had already qualified in other events, enough points to finish atop the rankings to clinch the U.S. berths.

Consider the combinations of Mantia and Hansen, and Bergsma and Manganello, as two-person squads at the Games.

“I think that’s the best way that we can get a country medal at the Olympics, is working as a unit,” Manganello said, “and I think with [Bergsma] and I, I think we’ve got a great opportunity to do so.”

Maria Lamb won the women’s race at 9:15.17, but could not pass Bergsma or Manganello in overall points in order to qualify. The women’s roster for the Olympics is complete with six skaters.

  • Heather Bergsma — 500m, 1000m, 1500m, mass start
  • Brittany Bowe — 500m, 1000m, 1500m
  • Erin Jackson — 500m
  • Jerica Tandiman — 1000m
  • Mia Manganello — 1500m, mass start
  • Carlijn Schoutens — 3000m, 5000m

The mass start wrapped up what U.S. Speedskating high performance director Guy Thibault considered a successful trials.

They drew sellout crowds for all six days in the return to Pettit for the first time since 1998.

Once considered the American mecca for the sport, Pettit had been overtaken by the Utah Olympic Oval in recent years as the home for top speedskaters.

“I’ve never seen the Pettit Center so busy,” Thibault said. “That was actually pretty amazing.”

Now it’s on to PyeongChang, where the U.S. hopes to erase the painful memories of getting shutout four years ago in Sochi.

It was the first time that Americans failed to earn a medal in speed skating since 1984.

“As far as selection goes, I think we ended up with the best team,” Thibault said.

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