Meet the U.S. Olympic speed skating team that could win its most medals in 16 years
The 12-member U.S. long track speed skating team going to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics has the potential to bring home its most medals since 2006.
Even one individual medal or two overall would be the best Team USA performance since 2010.
Call them the Determined Dozen.
“I’ve been around for a while, and it’s one of the strongest teams I’ve ever witnessed,” said Mia Manganello Kilburg, who made her second Olympic team.
Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia will be three-time Olympians and both endured the disappointment of 2014 – with no medals – and 2018, when the women’s team pursuit squad captured the lone bronze.
Now Bowe, 33, is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 1000m, the event in which she is the reigning world champion and world record holder. She is also ranked No. 2 in the 1500. The one piece missing in Bowe’s distinguished career is an Olympic podium in an individual event after she contributed to the team pursuit bronze four years ago. Bowe placed fourth in the 1000 and fifth in both the 500 and 1500 in PyeongChang in the aftermath of a concussion that affected her training.
Mantia is No. 1 in the world in the 1500, a three-time world champion in mass start, and is also the leader of the world-record-holding men’s team pursuit squad. In addition, he’ll skate the 1000, the event in which he finished fourth in 2018. So, that makes Mantia, who will celebrate his 36th birthday during the Games, a legitimate medal hope in three events.
And then there’s Erin Jackson, who is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 500 as she heads to her second Games. She owes her spot on this Olympic team to Bowe, her good friend who generously gave up her own 500m berth. Jackson, 29, had a rare mid-race slip during last week’s U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials and finished behind Bowe and Kimi Goetz.
The U.S. only has two guaranteed quota spots in the event. However, Team USA could be awarded a third position later due to a reallocation from other nations, which would put Bowe in the field.
The wild card is Jordan Stolz, who at age 17 is the third-youngest athlete in history make the U.S. men’s long track team. He set track records at Milwaukee’s Pettit National Ice Center in both the 500 and 1000. If Stolz continues the improvement he has shown over the World Cup season – setting the American record in the 500 and the world junior records in the 500 and the 1000 – he could be in the hunt for a medal.
“It’s no secret that a few of us have had a ton of success on the World Cup and world level and have just fallen short at the Games,” said Bowe. “And we’re well aware of that. Having success early (on the World Cup circuit) has definitely helped our confidence and momentum, and to have some newcomers like Erin and Jordan and then the team pursuit team has just raised the excitement level.”
Bowe, Mantia and Jackson are all former inline skaters from Ocala, Florida, who parlayed their astounding success on wheels into new careers on blades.
Bowe has won 11 medals at the World Single Distances Championships from 2013 through 2021, including four golds. She is the reigning champion in the 1000, winning three golds in that event and also won the 1500 in 2015. In addition, she has a staggering 75 World Cup medals, including 33 golds, 25 silvers and 17 bronzes (36 medals in the 1000, 24 in the 1500, 14 in the 500 and one in team pursuit).
Mantia has won three world championship golds in mass start as well as a bronze in the 1500 at the 2020 World Championships in Salt Lake City. He has won 22 World Cup medals, including eight golds, five of those in the 1500. Mantia won 14 medals in the 1500, five in mass start, one in team pursuit and two in team sprint, which is not an Olympic event.
He has eliminated all distractions in what he said will be his last Olympic campaign. “It’s really nice to have the entire team on the men and women’s side really step up and be in contention across the board,” Mantia said.
In addition to Bowe and Jackson on the women’s team, Goetz, a first-time Olympian after missing out on the 2018 Games as a short-track competitor, will race the 500 and 1000 while Manganello Kilburg, 32, will race the 1500 and mass start and could possibly also contest the 3000 since she is the first reserve. Giorgia Birkeland, another Olympic rookie at age 19, will fill the other mass start position.
Mantia and Stolz will be joined on the men’s team by now three-time Olympian Emery Lehman, 25, in the 1500 and team pursuit and new Olympians Ethan Cepuran, 21, in the 5000 and team pursuit; Austin Kleba, 22, in the 500; Casey Dawson, 21, in the 5000 and team pursuit and Ian Quinn, 28, in mass start.
In 2014, Lehman became the youngest man to compete for Team USA in long track speed skating at age 17 years, 240 days – surpassing by two days the legendary Eric Heiden, who was making his first Olympic appearance in 1976. Heiden, of course, went on to sweep the five men’s gold medals in 1980.
Stolz will be 17 years and 267 days when he goes to the starting line for the 500 on Feb. 12. He is the American record holder in that event, but thinks his best chance is in the 1000, where he hopes to break into the top five. That would be a higher finish than either Heiden or Lehman at that age.
In 2010, Team USA won four medals – one gold, two silvers and a bronze – all on the men’s side (Shani Davis, Chad Hedrick and team pursuit).
Four years earlier, in Torino, the men’s team also won all of the U.S. medals, finishing with seven overall and tying the Netherlands with three golds by Joey Cheek, Davis and Hedrick.
That means this could be the most balanced U.S. effort in 20 years, when the Americans won eight medals in Salt Lake City in 2002, tying the Netherlands and Germany. All three nations had three golds. The men won two gold – Casey FitzRandolph in the 500 and Derek Parra in the 1500, one silver (Parra in the 5000) and two bronze medals (Kip Carpenter in the 500 and Cheek in the 1000) while Chris Witty won a gold in the women’s 1000 and Jennifer Rodriguez captured bronze medals in the 1000 and 1500.
If Jackson, who was the first Black woman to make a U.S. Olympic long track team in 2018, wins the 500m gold, she would be the first American woman to reach the top of the podium in that event since Bonnie Blair won three straight from 1988-1994.
Team USA has not medaled in the men’s 500 since Cheek’s gold in 2006. In the 1000, the last medals were won by Davis (gold) and Hedrick (bronze) in 2010, while Davis’ silver in the 1500 in Vancouver was the last men’s medal in that event.
In team pursuit, the Americans have pioneered a technique in which Mantia leads the way for the entire race instead of the three skaters switching off. This has saved time and energy.
In a bit of a twist, after making the podium in 2018, the U.S. women will not compete in team pursuit for the first time since the event was added to the Olympic program in 2006.
Bowe said that while “racking up medals” this World Cup season has brought Team USA a lot of “camaraderie, fun and excitement,” the skaters will all try to stay safe as they prepare for Beijing.
“With me, Kimi and Erin in the top 10, going for medals every single time we get on the ice has been really fun,” Bowe said. “Outside of the rink, as much as we love each other, we still keep to ourselves a little bit.”
She said just going to hang out at a teammate’s house could put them in jeopardy of being a close contact or testing positive for Covid-19. “It’s like you can’t trust anybody as cautious as everyone’s been at this time,” Bowe said. “It’s been weird, but it’s been awesome and really fun to cheer each other on.”
Karen Rosen, who has covered every summer and winter Olympics since 1992, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.
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