Heather Richardson already has a gold medal to her name. The speedskater competed in the 2013 World Sprint Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah, and took home the gold there, edging out China’s Yu Jing and South Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa by fractions of a second. She has also competed in the Winter Olympics, but not medaling in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic games. This year, she has set Olympic gold as her goal in Sochi.
“It’s a little easier this time,” Richardson said. “I’m glad I had that experience to go to Vancouver. I’ve been there and done it. I know what to expect this time.”
She has good reason to hope. The Associated Press is predicting a gold and a bronze medal from the women’s speedskating team. CBC is predicting a gold medal and Sports Illustrated a silver. There’s a lot of hype surrounding this team, with “old pros” like Richardson and Brittany Bowe expecting to medal and newcomers like Sugar Todd and Anna Ringsred hoping for a good showing in Sochi.
Richardson qualified for the team by winning the 500, the 1000 and the 1500 meter race in the U.S. Olympic Trials last month. She and her team are expecting a similarly solid performance in Sochi. She says her goal is to be on the podium in “at least one” of her three individual events. Her longtime teammate, Brittany Bowe, expects the same of Heather and of herself.
“Having Heather next to me, who is one of, if not the, fastest women in the world is definitely an advantage to have,” Brittany said.
The two woman grew up with similar backgrounds. With Richardson from High Point, North Carolina, and Bowe from Ocala, Florida, ice speed skating was not always a viable option in the warm weather. Instead, both women took up in-line skating to great success, with Bowe winning 32 medals as a representative of the U.S. in various in-line speed skating competitions. Richardson said she and her competitors at the time were looking for in-line skating to become an Olympic sport, but it didn’t work out. So they took their skills to the ice.
Richardson’s not the first North Carolinian to follow this path. Joey Cheek, born in Greensboro, North Carolina, less than 20 miles from Richardson’s hometown, started his career in-line skating before eventually making the transition to ice speed skating. He medaled for the U.S. three times, winning bronze in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic games and a silver and gold medal in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic games.
Richardson hopes that she can do the same in Sochi, but admits she still gets nervous before the races. She knows that the nerves will be there before every race, but she has learned to handle it.
“I’ve learned to try not to think too much about the race. When I do, I tell myself: ‘Skate and have fun.’ ” Richardson said.
Heather Richardson has a goal in her sights. She will begin her quest for Sochi gold on February 11, racing the 500 meter twice, once at 7:45 a.m. EST and again at 8:40 a.m. EST. On February 13, she will compete in the 1000 meter and on February 16, she will race in the 1500 meter, both at 9 a.m. EST. The team events will have the quarterfinals on February 21 and the semifinals and finals on February 22.
By Jonathan Gardner