8:00 PM PST, February 23, 2013
Speedskating is split into two sports.
One, long track, is against the clock. Each "race" has two athletes, with overall results determined by finishing time.
The other, short track, is a race to the finish, like running events in track and field.
There also is a split in the U.S. long track program, minus the public attention that has accompanied the short-track mess.
More importantly, the U.S. long-track talent pool could be drying up.
"I feel the (influx of in-line skaters) has disguised some of the problems in the sport for a number of years," said Joey Cheek, who went from in-line to 2006 Olympic long-track champion. "Now it looks as if that is beginning to peter out."
The U.S. won just four long-track medals at the 2010 Olympics after taking seven in 2006 and eight in 2002. The women have not won a medal in the last two Olympics.
The men's long-track World Cup results generally have been good the past two seasons, mainly because of the brilliance of Chicagoan Shani Davis, who remains an Olympic favorite in the 1,000 meters.
The two-time Olympic 1,000 champion (and four-time medalist) trains on his own, pays his own World Cup travel expenses and relies on personal sponsors to cover the costs.
Davis, who declined comment through his representatives, is 30. He struggled with a groin injury earlier this season and has been far less successful at his other Olympic medal event, the 1,500 meters, than in the past.
No man likely to contend for medals at the 2014 Olympics has emerged since the 2010 Winter Games.
The women's picture is better — on the sprint side. Former in-liner Heather Richardson has become a consistent World Cup winner and is the favorite in the 2014 Olympic 1,000. Brittany Bowe, another former in-liner, has moved into medal contention after just two full years on ice.
The distance skaters have been far less successful.
At last week's world all-around championships, where the longer events usually are decisive in the final standings, the U.S. men and women were notably poor. Jonathan Kuck, who had been runner-up in 2010, was 13th, lowest by the top U.S. man since 2001. Anna Ringsred was 20th, lowest by the top U.S. woman since 2008.
In six World Cup races of 1,500 meters or longer this season, no U.S. woman has been good enough to qualify for the "A" Division since Jilleanne Rookard dropped into the "B" after one race.
US Speedskating has tried to get all the national team skaters to train in Salt Lake City, even using some of its limited financial resources to give five athletes of essentially mediocre ability free housing nearby. But several are training elsewhere because they don't see an advantage to moving.
Two 2010 Olympians, Kuck of Champaign and Brian Hansen of Glenview, and one of the most promising new skaters, Emery Lehman of Oak Park, have remained in Milwaukee.
That means they do not get such national team services as use of a trainer or free use of the Pettit Center ice beyond the amount the federation contracts for.
"I decided to stay with my coach (Nancy Swider-Peltz) because I have been with her 12 years, and it has worked for me," Hansen said.
Asked about the incentive to get free rent in Utah, Hansen said, "Maybe (the federation) should be putting money in places where there is a better chance of it getting to athletes who are performing. But they did give us the choice to go there and do that."
Hansen, an Olympic silver medalist, has won his first two World Cup individual medals this season. He would have a better chance to win the season title in the 1,500 meters (and $15,000 in prize money) if the federation had not been forced to keep the team home from one World Cup event for financial reasons.
Hansen has averaged more points per race than the six ahead of him in the standings, but total points decide the placement. Seventh is worth just $3,000.
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