No time to waste for U.S. speedskaters

By Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
Published: Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010 11:51 p.m. MDT

Best of Luck and great racing to all the skaters and all the fans attending. I SO wish I could be there this weekend.
Skate fast, turn left.
Also, thank you to Katherine Reutter for posting this article on twitter.

The U.S. short track speedskating team gives a whole new definition to the lazy days of summer.

With the 2010 Olympic Games in the history books, summer seems the perfect time for some down time. They did, after all, help the U.S. team win more medals in the Vancouver Games than any other country.

Instead, the athletes flew home from Canada — some celebrating accomplishments, others lamenting lost opportunities — and immediately geared up for World Championships.

“Our season wasn’t over,” said Travis Jayner, who was on the relay team that gave Apolo Anton Ohno his eighth Olympic medal — more than any other U.S. athlete in Olympic history. “We had maybe two or three weeks with traveling and speaking, and then it was back to the office as usual.”

The office for Jayner and teammates like Katherine Reutter, who won a bronze in a team relay and a silver in the 1,000-meter individual, is the speedskating oval in Kearns. The team had very little time to adjust from the spotlight of the Olympics and the pressure of fulfilling lifelong dreams to the expectation that they sustain their success at World Championships a few weeks later.

“It was an interesting experience,” Jayner said after practice in Kearns on Tuesday. “To go from this huge event, that for me I’d been working for my whole life. The majority of us on the team were kind of wide-eyed and we were so completely focused on the Olympics. Then to try and forget about it and compete was difficult.”

And while all of the athletes got some time to themselves after the World Cup season ended, most spent it giving back to the communities that had supported them in their efforts to earn Olympic glory.

“The beauty of having it is being able to share it,” Jayner said of his bronze medal. “We were so supported. I was asked to speak at schools, here and in Canada. I was even introduced at a Real Salt Lake game, and it all means so much to us.”

Reutter also spoke about her success, but her message to children was more about finding their passion.

“This is what I love,” she said. “I’m lucky to be able to pursue my passion. Whether it’s sports or music or school, I just encourage them to follow their dreams, find their passion.”

Despite their success in Vancouver, neither Jayner nor Reutter feels their Olympic dream is complete.

“I had only envisioned us winning,” Jayner said of the relay team anchored by Ohno. “It’s mission accomplished (because they won a medal), but it was not. It was not the medal we wanted to win.”

Still, he savors the experience — especially that of skating with the most decorated American in the Olympic games.

“Apolo is a great leader and a great teammate,” said Jayner. “It has been an honor and a pleasure working with him. One of the reasons the U.S. is so good is because we’re all chasing him down. He’s setting the gold standard for the sport.”

Reutter has had a more frustrating summer as hip surgery sidelined her for three months. She also feels like she has unfinished business at the Olympics.

“Going into the 1,000-meter race I was having a mental breakdown,” said Reutter, who worked out longer than her teammates on Tuesday in an effort to catch up. “I couldn’t stand feeling the way I did for one more day.”

As contemplating the effort she’d put into earning a gold medal at the Olympics, she kept asking herself if walking away without a gold would make her feel like she’d wasted her time. Or, she wondered, did she have the ability to make her dreams come true?

“It was the feeling that the whole world depended on how I was going to skate that day,” she said.

That’s when a coach helped her put the pressure in perspective. She had, after all, sacrificed many of the normal indulgences of youth to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. Did she really want to waste it?

“Just be the best you can be for six more hours,” he told her. “Because whether you did good or bad, it was going to be over in a few hours.”

She went out on the ice and won a silver medal.

It feels even more satisfying now that she’s struggling to deal with the setback of a serious injury. It is frustrating, she said, how quickly one loses a lifetime of fitness.

“It’s pretty brutal,” she said of trying to make up for lost time. “I had nine weeks off skates. The hardest part was when I was able to be on the ice but not push my body the way I wanted to. Every day was a really bad day.”

This weekend she and Jayner, as well as dozens of others nurturing the same dreams, will compete in the American Cup. The best skaters will earn a spot on the U.S. World Cup team for the first half of the season. The skaters will have another qualifying competition in December to determine which athletes will represent the U.S. for the second half of the season.

Despite the setback of an injury, Reutter hopes to make the team.

“My goal is to make the team this weekend, even if I’m not my butt-kicking self,” she said. “And be my butt-kicking self by December.”

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