Newsletter #1, December 21, 2006: The Road to Turino Travels and travails: Making reservations is always stressful: I finally reserved airline flights for my wife and daughter yesterday - they will be traveling in for the middle week of the Olympics and will be in town to attend 2 of the 5 race events for short track speedskating. Shannon and Katelina will be joined by her friend Julia and her two daughters Anya and Lydia. Julia speaks some Italian and will provide the group some comfort when the language barrier presents itself (as I will be traveling in alone a week earlier than them)
Background on the Skaters: (the women's team is pretty much all new since I retired) Apolo Ohno - the little guy with the soul patch on his chin who put short track on the map in 2002, he is probably one of the most naturally gifted speedskaters in the world. His balance and timing are impeccable, and he wins not through gargantuan "take the lead early" efforts, but through clever movements through the pack, using the draft of the skaters in front and saving his energy for the final bolt to the line.
My experience: Apolo's first national team trials were in 1995 when I was at the top of my form - and he was an unknown punk kid of 12. In 1997, he won the trials - at age 14 shocking all of us with his natural talents. In 1998 I joined him on the sidelines when I didn't make the olympic team. In 1999 he got his act together and has been at the top of the sport since. In the 2002 Olympics he won several medals including a gold in the 1000 meters after a Korean skater was disqualified after finishing first. He's pretty quiet and shy, but at the same time carries himself with some presence that some dismiss as attitude. We know each other reasonably well, and his father and I talk at the races.
Rusty Smith - the "old guy" on the team at 27 years old - (like me in my final few years.) Rusty is an able competitor in all distances - just like Apolo. Rusty won a bronze at the 2002 games in a heartbreaker - he led the entire 500m race until the last few lap where he was caught from behind at the last minute.
My experience: Rusty and I go way back to my undergraduate years at Stanford in California. I used to go down to Los Angeles for races occasionally, and there was this loud mouthed snot nosed kid from L.A. named Rusty always hanging around, talking and talking. Rusty made his first team in 1996 – one of the the last years I traveled with the team. He's a bit brash and not shy at all, but a fierce competitor with a good heart. I like Rusty a lot.
Alex Izykowski - I don't know much about Alex's skating - he's young and fairly new to the team My Experience: Alex is pretty new to the team. He's from Michigan - where I grew up, so we have that in common. I think I know his parents.
JP Kepka - JP is wicked fast in the 500 meters and is fun to watch skate. His endurance is not the best for the longer events, though he skates a good 1000m. My experience: I coached JP when he was an 8 year old kid at a camp at the Petit Center and he had great form even then.
UPDATE: U.S. Olympic team trials - results: The U.S. Speedskating Short Track Olympic trials have finished day 3 of 4 up in Marquette Michigan. As of today: Apolo Ohno leads the men, and Hyo Jung Kim (she goes by Halie) leads the women - both with commanding leads. In fact, Apolo has it wrapped up after day 3 (157 points vs. 53.5 points for second place Alex Izykowski) Even if he didn't skate today, no one could pass him. Rusty Smith is in third (52.5 points), with Anthony Lobello in 4th (42 points).J.P. Kepka is currently in 5th. His strong 500 should get him back in the 500 over Anthony Lobello - who won the previous 500 due to a crash. This would be preferable for the relay team as JP is more experienced and has faster top speed (when he is on he has incredible lap times).
If you would like to watch final two races of the Olympic trials, you can sign up for a live webcast starting tonight at 6:30pm. The link can be found at http://www.usspeedskating.org Based on the results thus far, the the relay team for the men might be: Apolo Ohno, Alex Izykowski,Rusty Smith,J.P. Kepka with an alternate of Anthony Lobello - likely - or Jordan Malone or Travis Bedford could sneak into the top 5.
Preview - Newletter #2: I've been working on a description of the sport, tactics, rules, and "what it feels like" that I'll send out with the next update.