The season’s second speedskating World Cup wrapped up at Salt Lake’s Olympic Oval with one inescapable conclusion: after years of scandal and disaster, U. S. speedskating will dominate the podium at the Sochi Olympics in February. It’s not just a few brilliant athletes—the depth of the 2013 national team is historic. Both the men and the women are winning.
Shani Davis, shown above cooling down with Brian Hansen after the Team Pursuit, is the world’s fastest man—unbeatable in the 1000 meter and either first or second in the 1500. Davis is 31, and has been the 1000 meter champion for the past two winter Games.
The U. S. team was golden at the season’s first World Cup in Calgary. They were the same in Utah. Going up against the world’s fastest, Shani won both the 1000 and 1500. Teammate Brian Hansen was second in the 1500 and third in the 1000.
On the women’s side, Brittany Bowe was second and Heather Richardson third in the women’s 1500. Heather got the bronze in the women’s 500 meters, but she and Brittany both roared back in the 1000, each breaking the former world record. Bowe won with the world record time of 1:12.58, while Heather came close with 1:12.61.
In the Team Pursuit, the U. S. men were second, the women third.
Even all-time champion Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals in the 1980 Games, then retired and became an orthapedic surgeon, showed up to watch World Cup skating by perhaps the best team the U. S. has ever fielded at an Olympics. In the perfectly framed image above, he looks to his right, at the Americans who have just flashed by, while a spectator watches the approaching Netherlands team in their bright orange uniforms.
But the big deal of the day was a first for speedskating—entertainment. Spectators usually have to sit around for an hour or more while the ice is prepped for the next event. Not this time—and perhaps never again at races in the United States.
Speedskating’s president, Michael Plant, brought in unique acts to keep the crowd amused. There were five BMX riders repeatedly getting air from a kicker placed just inside the ice of the Oval, and an amazing drumline called the Green Man Group, pictured above, who were completely covered, head to toe—including their faces—in ‘Morph’ suits of green Spandex.
With the current crop of athletes, the new entertainment factor and the probability of Olympic domination, speedskating will grab more fans this season than it’s ever had before.