Joey Mantia, top in the world, sets 1500m track record to make third Olympic team
If this is what Joey Mantia and Brittany Bowe can do while training through the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, they’ve set the bar high for Beijing.
Mantia just wanted to be fast enough in the 1500m to make his third straight Olympic team in the event Saturday and chase a medal at the Games.
That’s something that has eluded Mantia in a speed skating career that has reached nearly every other peak.
It turns out Mantia checked off another box, too. The 35-year-old won the race and got his first track record. Mantia clocked 1:44.01 to shatter the record of 1:44.47 set by Olympic bronze medalist Chad Hedrick in October 2009 at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee.
“It’s a nice solidification and builds a lot of confidence that you’re doing the right thing,” said Mantia, who was fourth in the 1000m at the 2018 Olympics and eighth in the 1500m, “especially when you think it didn’t go 100 percent according to plan.”
Bowe won her third event at this Olympic Trials, capturing the women’s 1500m in 1:55.81. Although she wasn’t pleased with the time, she was well ahead of runner-up Mia Manganello Kilburg, who clinched her berth at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in 1:57.29.
Manganello Kilburg won the 3000 on Wednesday, but is not assured of an Olympic berth in that event. A 2018 Olympic bronze medalist in team pursuit, she is favored to win the mass start on Sunday.
There was just as much drama off the ice.
Bowe and Kimi Goetz, who was third in the 1500, opened the door to be joined in Beijing by teammate Erin Jackson. With a literal stroke of bad luck, Jackson slipped in the 500 on Friday and missed qualifying for the Games in an event in which she leads the world and won four of eight World Cup races.
Bowe and Goetz went 1-2 in both the 500 and 1000 and one could relinquish her spot in the 500 to allow Jackson to make the five-woman team. An international reallocation could produce a third berth, but it is not guaranteed.
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“I’m sure there will be a discussion,” Bowe said. “It’s hard to say. In my heart, I thought Kimi and I were going for that second-place spot. Hopefully we get three spots when we get to the Olympics, but as of now, it seems that the only way Erin will get to compete in the Olympics is if one of us gives up that spot.
“I’m hopeful that internally we can figure that out and all of three of us are in Beijing.”
Bowe has known Jackson since they were inline skaters in Ocala, Florida. While Jackson raced in the 1500, she finished sixth in an event she rarely contests, so her fate is in the hands of her two friends.
And they were well aware of that.
“As competitors, once we get to the line, it’s on us to let everything go,” Bowe said. “I’m focused on the task at hand and nothing else is in my mind, but the past 24 hours have been an emotional roller coaster. Erin is one of my great friends, great teammates and the No. 1-ranked 500m girl in the world. So I’d be lying if I said that hasn’t taken a a bit of an emotional toll on me.”
Goetz added, “We’re friends first, teammates second and competitors third. We’ve talked about it a little bit, but Brittany and I both told her we need to get through today and see how today goes before we make any tough decisions.”
Manganello Kilburg sympathized with their plight. “I can’t imagine being in the position of the three of them,” she said. “Erin deserves support and deserves protection for her amazing results. I think the best should race at the Olympics. I can’t speak for anybody in that position, but I can guarantee it probably won’t happen again.”
Because of the rules, Jackson was not allowed a re-skate. Had she fallen, she would have been awarded a second chance.
Goetz said all three skaters had been training to race the 500 all year, but misinterpreted the rules that determined how they could qualify for the Olympics. Each ranks among the fastest in the world. Yet because of a groin injury Bowe suffered during the World Cup season, she didn’t amass enough points to get the U.S. an automatic third qualification spot.
“It just feels sad,” Goetz said. “It’s sad for Erin, it’s sad for Britt or I if we decide to give up the spot. It’s sad for my teammates that didn’t make it. It’s not the exciting feeling that I thought I’d have, or that I had the first day.”
On the men’s side, however, there was still excitement as Emery Lehman made his third straight Olympic team. He finished second in the men’s 1500m with a time of 1:45.10.
Lehman, 25, was just 17 when he made his first Olympic team in 2014.
“I probably didn’t even know what I was doing,” he said. “In 2018, I was coming back from having mono, so I was really lucky to be there. Now I feel like I’m going back as a competitor, not only in team pursuit but the 1500.”
Mantia, Lehman, Ethan Cepuran, who won the 5000, and Casey Dawson are expected to be named to the U.S. squad for team pursuit. Team USA holds the world record in the event.
Lehman said this 1500 was the closest he’s been to Mantia all season. His best World Cup finish was fourth in Calgary and he earned the second quota spot for the United States in the event. “Coming here and defending it is a really good feeling,” he said.
Mantia will be a busy man in Beijing. He qualified for the seven-man Olympic team in the 1000, finishing second in that event on Friday night. In addition, Mantia is the favorite in mass start, the event which will close the Olympic trials on Sunday.
Mantia is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 1500 and captured World Cup wins in Salt Lake City and Calgary in December in what’s known as the “King’s Distance.” In the other two World Cups, he won a silver and a bronze.
After calling his 1000m race “terrible” despite placing second, Mantia said he was “ecstatic” with his 1500 even though he usually has a little more gas at the end. He blamed his intense training regimen the last couple of weeks.
But Mantia told the USA television broadcast that “in my heart, I truly believe if you’re awesome right now, you’re not going to be at the Games.”
Mantia said he thinks he can go into the low 1:43s in Beijing, which is at sea level. His personal best is 1:41.15 at altitude in Salt Lake City a month ago.
However, Mantia was able to find the “sweet spot” amid his heavy training to perform well in his signature race at the trials. Mantia said that after Jordan Stolz set track records in the 500 and 1000, he couldn’t let the 17-year-old “have all the fun.”
Stolz did not compete in the 1500. “I called him a chicken today because he didn’t skate,” Mantia said. “It’s been fun watching him crush through the 500 and the 1000. In my playground, he would have struggled a little bit, maybe.”
Mantia, who set a boatload of records as one of the world’s best inline skaters, said of his first track record on the ice, “It’s nice to have in your back pocket. It says nobody has skated that fast before at that track. I felt like I’ve been good enough to get them before, but with the level being where it is in the last six or seven years in long track speed skating it’s just been tougher and tougher to try to snag those records.”
The Ocala native said that it was especially meaningful to break a record held by Hedrick, “a guy I looked up to when I was a kid skating in inline. I’m excited about what’s to come in the future in the next 30 days.”
However, Mantia said he still maintains that the Olympic Trials should have been cancelled due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. “I think it was a bad move that we skated here and had this event,” he said. “I think it was an unnecessary risk.”
But Mantia added, “Everybody’s masked up. We’re doing the best we can dealing with this situation and hopefully we make it out of this and back home and to the Games without any issues.”
Karen Rosen, who has covered every summer and winter Olympics since 1992, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.
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