Other Sports

Young U.S. women speedskaters off to 'rough start'

Heather Richardson of the U.S. competes in 500-meter speed skating.   (Harry E. Walker / MCT)
Heather Richardson of the U.S. competes in 500-meter speed skating. (Harry E. Walker / MCT)

RICHMOND, British Columbia — Once again, a child led them, and there was nothing particularly biblical about that unless you're describing the continued setbacks.

Heather Richardson, just 19 and one of those up-and-comers not particularly saddled with expectations, finished her second run of the women's 500-meter races Tuesday in first place. She couldn't suppress the smile on her cool-down lap, a personal success already secured.

Those eight remaining skaters, those of world-class pedigree, they were the problem.

And by the end of racing at Richmond Olympic Oval, Richardson was in sixth place, the rest of the U.S. entrants outside the top 16, another hardware-free day at the track.

"I usually start peaking around this time, so it was perfect," said an undeniably surprised Richardson. "I nailed my start in both races. I've never opened up that fast and just chasing the skater in the back stretch in the second one was my goal."

It's certainly a credit to Richardson to be in the conversation with gold medal-winner Sang-Hwa Lee of South Korea and silver medalist Jenny Wolf of Germany, the world record-holder.

Richardson began long-track speedskating only in 2007 and has trained with the 2014 Winter Games in mind.

The other top 10 U.S. finish so far was a ninth-place landing by first-time Olympian Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr., 23, in the women's 3,000-meter race. But counting on youth is not a particularly sure path to success, which is perhaps why U.S. coach Ryan Shimabukuro conceded the speedskating team was off to a "rough start."

Other than Richardson showing some mettle, if not medal, there wasn't much success in the 500. Elli Ochowicz finished 17th, Jen Rodriguez 21st and Lauren Cholewinski 30th.

Rodriguez in particular lamented her slow starts on Tuesday, but then again, she had expected little out of the race except to get a feel for the surface before the 1,000- and 1,500-meters.

"It was a good platform for my upcoming races," Rodriguez said. "I'm more of a technical skater, so fast ice lends better to my type of skating. But I still have to race and I still have to skate here, so I gotta make due. I was actually happy with today. My starts just sucked, that's all there is to it."

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune