Speed Skaters Heat up World's Fastest Ice at U.S. Championships

Speed Skaters Heat up World's Fastest Ice at U.S. Championships

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News Specialist Shelley Osterloh reporting

Many of the American long track speed skating stars are back this season. Gold and silver medalist Derek Parra skated in the U.S. Championships, trying to qualify for World Cup in a couple more events.

Parra says the Olympics helped light a fire of enthusiasm for speed skating.

"If we can keep the buzz going and keep performing well and have good results in Europe, keep in the papers, maybe skating will be as big in the U.S. as it was years ago -- 20, 30 years ago," he says.

Double Olympic bronze medalist Jennifer Rodriguez placed 1st in the 1500 meter and 2nd in the 500. She hopes speed skating's growing popularity will attract new athletes.

"Hopefully we just need some more skaters and that makes us stronger as a whole," Rodriguez says.

She and newlywed husband and teammate K.C. Boutiette both made it to the podium today.

K.C., who has battled a back injury, says he has renewed enthusiasm.

"I get a little frustrated when I don't feel as good sometimes. But then when I skate like I did today, you know, a personal best when I really don't know what to expect because I have skated much long track, yeah, there's definitely some more fire in there," Boutiette says.

Becky Sundstrom, who finished 13th in the Olympics says now the pressure is off and she has rediscovered the fun of skating -- and it shows in her results: 1st in 500, 2nd in the 1500.

"This whole season so far, the races have been fun and I've missed that," Sundstrom says.

There are also a few short track skaters training on long track. They say it's great cross-training.

"I've been in the top 10 in the world for the past five years. You want some kind of advantage on other people, and if I can learn one or two little itty bitty things out here, it will make me that much faster and I can move up even further," says Rusty Smith, an Olympic short track speed skater.

Shani Davis, who just missed the making the Olympic short track team, has returned to long track, and is doing great. He won the men's 1500 meter.

"I like the atmosphere better in long track because you don't have to beat anyone. You just skate your best skate against the clock, try to achieve self goals," Davis says.

All in all, coaches are enthusiastic about the season ahead.

"It's great to have championships where you think it's going to be pretty good and all of a sudden athletes show up from everywhere and you have more depth -- not just at the top, but all the way through the ranks -- than you ever expected," says Tom Cushman, a coach for the U.S. team.

The U.S. Championships continue Monday and Tuesday at the Utah Olympic Oval.

And soon the world's fastest skaters will return to the fastest ice for World Cup competition. Long track starts January 10th, short track starts February 7th.

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