U.S. speedskating team looking strong for Sochi

Shani Davis spearheads a strong U.S. long-track speedskating team that will compete in the Sochi Olympics.
Rick Bowmer/AP

KEARNS, Utah (AP) - Led by Shani Davis, Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe, the United States is fielding its strongest long-track speedskating team since the 2002 Winter Olympics.

That's when the Americans won three golds and eight medals overall at the Utah Olympic Oval, where the trials to select the team for the Sochi Games conclude on Wednesday.

Davis, Richardson and Bowe have already qualified in multiple events where they will be leading medal contenders at the Olympics in February. Brian Hansen also has the potential to reach the podium.

''My expectations are a little bit higher,'' Richardson said Tuesday after winning the 1,500 meters.

Davis won the men's 1,500, an event he finished second in at the Turin and Vancouver games. He was timed in 1 minute, 43.20 seconds

''I'm sitting in a good position, pretty strong,'' he said.

The same could be said of the U.S. long-track skaters.

Joey Mantia and sprinter Tucker Fredricks, who have notched World Cup wins this season, also could medal in their events.

''We have a strong team,'' Davis said. ''I'm sure we're only going to continue to get stronger.''

The final Olympians will be announced Wednesday, when one berth is available in both the women's 5,000 and the men's 10,000.

Jilleanne Rookard, already on the Olympic team, is the favorite for the 5,000. Jonathan Kuck, also on the team, is the leading contender in the men's longest race.

Olympic hopeful Theresa Cliff-Ryan, injured in a training accident, will be re-evaluated by a doctor on Wednesday and may compete in the 5,000.

Cliff-Ryan sustained a concussion and several broken teeth when clipped from behind by a crashing skater while standing on the infield on Monday during an off day in the competition.

''If she gets cleared then I think she'll go,'' her coach, Matt Kooreman, said. ''She has intention to race. It's just (dependent on) how she feels.''

The 35-year-old Cliff-Ryan wasn't at the arena Tuesday but tweeted, ''Thanks everyone 4 the well wishes. I'm doing well considering & so happy it wasn't worse.''

Kevin Geminder caught the outside edge of his clapskate and fell on the front straightaway while going full speed during the training session. He slid off the track and into Cliff-Ryan, flipping her into the air. She landed on her face.

Geminder skated in the 1,500 on Tuesday and finished 25th.

''I was still shaking from what happened yesterday,'' he said. ''Even though everyone told me it wasn't my fault, I still feel bad. My injuries were very minor. I ended up very lucky. Unfortunately, she didn't.''

Geminder said he would wait until he could see Cliff-Ryan in person to talk to her about the accident.

In the women's 1,500, Richardson finished first in 1:54.19, beating roommate Brittany Bowe for the third straight time at these trials. They also went 1-2 in the 500 and 1,000.

''You know, she beat me three times in the fall,'' Richardson said. ''We're going back and forth. It's all fun.''

Bowe came into the trials ranked ahead of Richardson in the 1,500, but she wasn't disappointed at all in her performance. Four years ago, she watched the Vancouver Games on television and decided to take up the sport after being an inline skater and playing college basketball at Florida Atlantic.

''Four years ago, I couldn't even skate on the ice,'' she said. ''My goal was to make the Olympics and to hopefully get on the podium, and I'm one step closer after this week. The pain is worth it and the pain will continue to be worth it.''

Three Olympic berths were up for grabs on the women's side. Rookard grabbed the last spot in 1:57.70.

In the men's 1,500, Hansen finished second to Davis in 1:43.70. The other two spots for Sochi were claimed by Mantia (1:44.41) and Jonathan Kuck (1:45.29).

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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