Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe can make plans for Sochi. Shani Davis is looking good, too.
The three biggest stars of US Speedskating headlined the second day of the U.S. Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, on Saturday.
Richardson and Bowe went one-two in the 500m. That put Richardson on her second U.S. Olympic Team and all but assured Bowe’s first Olympic berth. Sugar Todd and Lauren Cholewinski took third and fourth and are likely going to Sochi, too.
Davis, a four-time Olympic medalist over the 1000m and 1500m, took fourth in the men’s 500m, an event where the U.S. can enter a maximum of four skaters in the Olympics.
Winner Mitchell Whitmore clinched his second Olympic berth. He’ll likely be joined on the Sochi roster by second-through-fourth finishers Tucker Fredricks, Brian Hansen and Davis.
Jonathan Garcia initially posted a fast enough two-run time to place fourth, knocking out Davis, but did not wear a time-recording ankle transponder in his second 500m, where he clocked 34.85, which would have been a personal best by .29 of a second.
“I know that I was good enough to be on the team,” Garcia said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s something nobody can take away from me.”
That time was wiped out. Garcia reskated and was slower, finishing sixth.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Davis said, according to the AP. “I remember the special feeling I had when I went [to the Olympics] the first time. I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and take the spot, even if it knocked me off the team. He’s a friend of mine. I want the best skaters to go. If someone is clearly faster than me, I want them to go. It’s just unfortunate that rule worked to his disadvantage.”
Davis is technically not assured of making the U.S. Olympic Team in the 500m yet. He could also drop the event altogether given he’s more focused on the 1000m and 1500m.
A maximum of 10 men and 10 women can make the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team, but the U.S. has more than 10 Olympic spots combined across all distances.
If stars like Richardson, Bowe and Davis qualify in multiple events at trials through Wednesday, it will help the U.S. stay at or under the 10 men and 10 women maximum and ensure the second, third and fourth finishers from Saturday go to Sochi.
The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue with 1000m races Sunday (NBC, 3 p.m.).
Richardson, 24, won the women’s 500m with a two-race total of 1:14.19, which was 1.32 faster than second-place Bowe. Cholewinski (1:16.18) and Todd (1:16.42) beat out three-time Olympian Elli Ochowicz (1:16.54) to likely make their second and first Olympic teams, respectively.
“It’s really special this time because of all of us inliners here, together,” Richardson said on NBC. “I grew up skating with Brittany and Lauren. To qualify for the Olympics together is really a special moment.”
Todd would not be the first “Sugar” to compete in the Olympics. Hungary’s István Sugár ran the men’s 4x100m track and field relay at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, according to sports-reference.com. There’s also the great boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who won gold at the 1976 Montreal Games.
Richardson and Bowe are expected to make the Olympic team in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Paired together, Richardson was .51 faster than Bowe in their opening race Saturday, all but sealing her title.
Richardson, 24, has been the fastest U.S. woman in the 500m each of the last five seasons. She’s the reigning World Sprint Champion (combining 500m and 1000m results) and has made three of eight World Cup 500m podiums this season.
Richardson grew up cherishing Cheerwine and skating inline in High Point, N.C., before switching to ice in 2007. She posted the best individual finish of any U.S. female speed skater at the 2010 Olympics, sixth in the 500m.
She was thought to be the biggest and perhaps only hope to end a U.S. female speed skating Olympic medal drought dating to 2002. Then Bowe came along.
Bowe, 25, spent the 2010 Olympics playing basketball in Boca Raton, Fla., a senior starting guard for Florida Atlantic. She also joined the inline invasion and could share the Sochi podium with Richardson.
“Heather’s definitely one of my inspirations to come over and try to pursue my Olympic dream,” Bowe said on NBC.
The clear favorite for Olympic 500m gold, however, is South Korea’s reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion Lee Sang-hwa, who broke her own world record three times this season.
Bowe and Richardson are expected to go head to head again at trials in the 1000m (Sunday) and the 1500m (Tuesday), two distances Bowe is better in than the 500m.
Whitmore, 24, is going back to the Olympics after winning with a two-race time of 1:09.12 on Saturday. Fredricks was second at 1:09.44 followed by Hansen (1:09.85) and Davis (1:10.21).
Whitmore placed 37th out of 38 finishers in the 2010 Olympic 500m. His chances in Sochi are looking up now that he owns the American record in the 500m and has finished no lower than 15th over eight World Cup races this season.
Fredricks, 29, made his third Olympic team. His international results have been hit or miss. His best Olympic finish is 12th, but nobody was faster at the opening World Cup event in Calgary, Alberta, in November.
Hansen and Davis are better in the 1000m and 1500m, which they are slated to skate Sunday and Tuesday.
If Davis does not skate the Olympic 500m, he would go into defending his 1000m gold medal without any prior Olympic competition on the Sochi oval. In 2006 and 2010, he warmed up for the Olympic 1000m by skating the 5000m and/or the 500m.
The Olympic men’s 500m could be wide open given eight different men won World Cup races this season.